19" long x 11" tall x 8" wide
A nice stool in a classic style
All Asante stools have the same basic form, with variations in the central support. Carved with the grain running
horizontally, a central column rises from a stepped base to support a curved rectangular seat. Asante stools
resemble those used on the Dahomey coast during the 19th century. Whereas stools with central supports in the
form of a leopard or elephant signified royal powers, this one probably belonged to a commoner for everyday
Every Akan person has a personal stool carved for them. Nobody else may sit on that stool, for it contains the
personal power of the owner. The deceased person is washed on their stool before burial, and it is then placed
on its side in a shrine where family members can leave offerings to the deceased.
|Additional examples for reference purposes
Royal Male "Silver"/White Stool
sheet silver decorations
max. height: 14"
max. width: 12"
Though once politically independent, Asante, together with other Akan-speaking peoples, is now an ethnic
state in the west African country of Ghana. Yet Asante retains a coherent structure similar to America's, with a
king, the Asantehene, and court at a capital city, Kumasi, supported by various component states whose
political structures are similar but more restricted in size and power. The leaders of component states affirm
loyalty to the king at Kumasi each year, receiving in turn the homage of their own subjects at home.
The primary Asante regalia item is the state stool. The Golden Stool in Kumasi is superior to all component
state stools and is similar to a European throne in that it is the physical expression of the continuity of the entire
state, taking precedence even over the Asantehene, who is merely its current "occupant". Every Asante has a
personal, utilitarian stool; there are hundreds of patterns expressing not only the owner's gender and social
status, but also political orientation. Successful component state leaders bequeath their personal stools to the
state as part of its regalia passed down to each new ruler, validating his right to his position. New leaders
augment the collection. During his life a ruler may have many personal stools whose support design and
decoration express his status and concerns; if he is successful, one of them will be blackened with soot and
egg, laid on its side to avoid contamination by hostile spirits and placed in the stool house on its own throne as
a shrine and means of access to the spirit of its former owner after his death.
Large size, careful workmanship and sheet silver ornaments all indicate that this was a leadership stool. It is a
standard "male" design with a series of bisected openwork arcs on the outer edges of the four solid legs and
intricate pierced work designs on its square, hollow center column. Like most African sculptures, this stool is
monoxylous, or carved from one piece of wood. It is oriented with its length parallel to the treetrunk from which it
was carved, placing the end or cross grain at each end of the stool and freeing it from the more common
circular form of seating resulting from a stool produced from an upended log with the cross section appearing
on the seat and base.
Martha J. Ehrlich - Southern Illinois University
|Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Stool, 19th–20th century
Wood; L. 20 3/4 in. (52.70 cm)
Bryce Holcombe Collection of African Decorative Art, Bequest of Bryce Holcombe, 1984 (1986.478.2)
This ceremonial seat of office was once the prized possession of an Akan chief in the present-day country of Ghana. Its form exemplifies the
"classical" Akan stool used as an icon of leadership throughout this region: a curved seat is supported by four slightly bowed legs and one
openwork column, all raised on a stepped platform. Carved from a single piece of wood, these stools often display elaborate inlaid metal
decorations or, as in this example, incised geometrical designs. The unusual five-legged form is referred to as kontonkrowie, or "the circular
rainbow." It evokes the Akan proverb "the rainbow is around the neck of every nation," calling to mind the king's role in uniting and controlling the
kingdom. On a more literal level, the five supports evoke the Akan model of statecraft (one king surrounded by chiefs) and the cosmos (the four
cardinal points and central sun). Stools are sometimes also discussed in anthropomorphic terms, with the support described as the "neck" and
the seat termed the "head" or "face."
An Akan ruler's stool occupies a place at the very center of his personal and political life. It is a potent indication of royal patronage, for only
those chiefs considered sufficiently loyal to the king are granted permission to use them. In some areas, the transfer of chiefly power is
consummated at the moment of the successor's first contact with his predecessor's stool. A leader's stool is so integrally linked to his identity that
his death is described by the phrase "a stool has fallen." Before burial, a chief's body is ritually washed on the stool and after the funeral, the
seat may be knocked sideways to prevent malevolent spirits from inhabiting it. The stools of the most important chiefs are blackened after the
deaths of their owners through the ritual application of smoke and other offerings and are then placed on altars where they facilitate
communication with the spirit of the deceased.