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Container for Gold Dust, Snuff, or Tobacco (Adakawa)

A work made of copper alloy.

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  • A work made of copper alloy.


Mid–/late 19th century


Akan-speaking peoples
Ghana; manufactured in England
Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

It is difficult to determine the intended use of this Akan container, which is made from alloyed copper impressed with decorative motifs, including a European merchant ship and a steam locomotive. In medium and decoration, it resembles a forowa, a lidded vessel used for storing shea-butter, a type of vegetable oil. There are, however, salient differences between this container and a forowa. This work is significantly smaller than most forowa, measuring only three inches in length and barely an inch in diameter. Its lid is also connected to the container by a chain, which is not true of forowa. The container’s diminutive size makes it unlikely to have been used as a shea-butter container. Instead it probably served to hold snuff or pipe tobacco. In addition, the quality of craftsmanship of the piece is exceptionally high, exhibiting straight lines and broad grooves that suggest mass production.
Iconographically, too, this container differs significantly from the typical Akan forowa in its inordinate emphasis on elements of European material culture. The embossed locomotive and sailing boat are clear pointers to the likely European origin of the imagery of the piece, as they are to its possible date. The inclusion of the locomotive engine dates the piece to after 1829, when that invention was first recorded. It is possible that this container was classified together with European manufactured items, such as staffs, hats, walking sticks, and a variety of personal items that were presented to influential Africans by European visitors and residents as tokens of alliance. Gifts that changed hands between Africans and Europeans enhanced commercial and political relations. In the hands of its African owner, this lidded container would have constituted a prestige symbol. Such an artifact would have served simultaneously as a signifier of wealth and an emblem of status for its Akan owner.

—Revised from Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome, “Art of the Akan,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, 23, no. 2 (1997), pp. 145-146.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa


Akan-speaking peoples


Container for Gold Dust, Snuff, or Tobacco (Adakawa)


Ghana (Exported to)

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


Container: 8.9 × 2.9 cm (3 1/2 × 1 1/16 in.); Chain l: H.: 15 cm (6 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of the Britt Family Collection

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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