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Goldweight Depicting a Man with a Pipe and a Powder Keg

A work made of copper alloy.

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  • A work made of copper alloy.


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 that involved gold. Stylistic studies of goldweights have provided rough dates for the creation of these works. Abstract goldweights are assigned to sometime between 1500 and 1720. Akan artists also created a variety 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. Humans and animals appear as solitary forms, but there are also narrative compositions. Regardless of whether the figures are single or part of a larger composition, their intention seems to have been to communicate a message of collective or personal nature.

This weight in the form of a warrior or hunter with a gun, carrying a keg of gunpowder and smoking a pipe, is a classic didactic figure that can be interpreted variously. The imagery is often said to encapsulate the following proverb: “Even in time of trouble we still need to enjoy the little pleasures of life.” Yet, the work could also be urging prudence in all social action in the same way as another proverb–ogya ne atuduru nna (fire and gunpowder do not sleep together)–suggests that a lack of circumspection can have dangerous consequences. This goldweight graphically conveys the foolishness of smoking so close to a medium as volatile and flammable as gunpowder. But the image, thus interpreted, may glamorize nonchalance, for the capacity to do the unthinkable can become a metaphor of power.
–Revised from Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome, “Art of the Akan,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, vol. 23, no. 2 (1997), pp. 135-147.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Goldweight Depicting a Man with a Pipe and a Powder Keg


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


5.1 × 1.9 × 3.8 cm (2 × 3/4 × 1 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Pinsof

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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