Ashanti royal gold
For the Ashanti of Ghana, their king, the Asantehene, is the embodiment of the sun, the source of all life and the prosperity within the state.
Over the centuries the Ashanti nation had amassed great wealth through the control of its many gold mines, the majority of which belonged to the king. The king supported a retinue of talented goldsmiths renowned for their crafting of exquisite artefacts and jewellery. The most precious of these is the celebrated Golden Stool, so sacred that it could not be sat on. It represented the soul of the kingdom and symbolized the king’s power and the unity of his subjects.
On August 13th 1995 we were invited to Ghana to attend the Silver Jubilee of the Ashanti King, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, honouring the 25th anniversary of his succession to the throne.
Only six photographers in the world were permitted to record this eight hour ceremony. We had been asked by National Geographic Magazine to photograph a cover story called “African Gold”. The Silver Jubilee, attended by 75,000 guests, was one of the most spectacular events we had witnessed in thirty years of our work in Africa.
To the accompaniment of fontomfrom drums, ivory horns, and the deafening cheers of the crowds, the king arrived in a palanquin, shaded by twirling velvet umbrellas. The gold jewelry on his arms was so heavy that bearers had to run alongside to support them as he waved to the crowds. He was accompanied by a retinue of a hundred and fifty drummers, horn blowers, umbrella twirlers, Chief Soul Washers, elephant tail switchers, fan and sword bearers to name a few. The Queen Mother followed in her own palanquin surrounded by attendants waving four-foot fans to keep her cool. She is regarded as the kingdom’s most powerful woman in its matrilineal society, she was the one responsible for the selection of the king. Accompanying the king was the Golden Stool, the “soul” of the nation. This was the first time in twenty-five years that the stool had been seen in public. As the stool entered the arena on the shoulders of a special bearer, shaded by an enormous umbrella and accompanied by its own special throne, a hush fell over the spectators. The crowd around the stool was so densely packed that our Ashanti assistants had to lift us above it, giving us only seconds to photograph this unique and sacred object in one of the most spectacular kingdoms on the African Continent.