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Goldweight Depicting a Catfish

A work made of copper alloy.

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  • A work made of copper alloy.


Early 18th/early 20th century


Asante or related Akan-speaking peoples
Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

The Akan used the lost-wax technique to create brass-cast weights for economic transactions involving gold. Although it is not clear when the convention of weights was first introduced, there is evidence that the Akan people traded gold with Islamized merchants from the West African interior grasslands many centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Some goldweights correspond to the Islamic weight system of North Africa, and appear to be fundamentally linked to the trans-Saharan trade, in which Arabs were deeply involved.
Stylistic studies of goldweights have yielded relative dates for these works that can be divided broadly into early and late periods. Abstract goldweights are assigned to sometime between 1500 and 1720. Akan artists also employed an assortment of figurative motifs in executing such miniature brass castings. These forms, which are less common than the abstract weights and are remarkably ornate, appear to have been modeled in the period of hegemony of the Asante kingdom, from 1700 through 1874. Regardless of weather the figures are single or part of a larger composition, their intention seems to have been to communicate a message of a collective or personal nature. This catfish goldweight may evoke the following saying: “If the catfish [mudfish] in the stream grows fat, it does so to the benefit of the crocodile,” which means the master always stands to benefit from the servant’s prosperity. However, given the fact that here the catfish is depicted alone and not with the crocodile, another meaning may have been intended. The well-known capacity of this fish type to survive the most arid conditions may suggests its symbolic implications for longevity.

—Revised from Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome, “Art of the Akan,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, 23, no. 2 (1997), p. 144.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Goldweight Depicting a Catfish


Ghana (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Copper alloy


1.1 × 2.1 × 3.9 cm (1/2 × 15/16 × 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Alfred Wolkenberg

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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