Chief’s Gold Scorpion Ring
Baule People, Ivory Coast
early 20th century
height: 5.2cm, weight: 34g
This impressive ring is cast in gold (perhaps around 12 carat) in the form of a particularly bloated scorpion with its tail and sting upraised. It has been cast with fine bands of braiding over its back. The band of the ring itself is decorated with a band of cross-hatching. Whilst the ring is large and conspicuous, it is not unduly heavy; heaviness is associated with later rings.
Gold rings such as this example were worn by Asante and Baule chiefs and kings. Each was cast with a prominent emblem each relating to an Asante procerb or kernel of wisdom. Many such rings would be worn on each hand at once. Together they would ‘introduce the oratory of leadership’ (McClusky, 200, p. 81).
Such rings complemented a complete royal regalia that would have included bracelets, necklaces, sandals (some with gold fittings), hats, cloths, staffs, stools and umbrellas.
According to McClusky (2002, p. 102), Europeans were aware of the extravagant use of gold for the personal adornment of West African chiefs and kings by the fifteenth century.
The art of making this type of gild jewellery was introduced to the Ivory Coast by Akan goldsmiths who had come from Ghana. Each ornament was modelled in fine wax threads over a charcoal core. The whole was then overlaid with clay allowing the ornament to be cast using the lost wax process (Phillips, 2004).
The ring has an old collection inventory number to the underside of the bezel.
See Zemanek-Munster, ‘Tribal Art – Auktion 66’, September 17 2011, lot 263, for another example of a Ashanti gold ring shaped as a scorpion.
Barmert, A., Africa: Tribal Art of Forest and Savanna, Thames & Hudson, 1980.
Garrard, T. F.,
African Gold, Prestel, 2011.
Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, Seattle Art Museum, 2002.
Africa: The Art of a Continent, Prestel, 2004.
Private Collection, Germany, acquired 1960-81
Inventory no.: 1868
A Ghana chief – he wears on his right hand two large, gold rings, one of which is a scorpion ring not unlike the example here.