A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Important Ashanti regalia of a gold-mounted cap and sandals stolen
Dear reader, December 30, 2003
Stolen Important Ashanti regalia of a gold-mounted cap and sandals
The lot on the cover of the catalogue of the last dec03 Christies' auction in Paris was stolen before the viewing started. It was an Ashanti pair of slippers with gold decoration and protective shamanic text (text which didn't work, yet again) .
Cap 20.5cm. wide: sandals 26cm. long
In a glass case with label: Cap and Slippers worn by the Ashanti King Coffee Calcalli. Taken from the Palace of Coomassie by H.B. Majesty’s Forces under the command of Major Genl. Sir Garnet Wolseley, K.C.B., G.C.M.G., January, 1874
The Ashanti Expedition of 1874 is not nearly as well known as the Benin Punitive Expedition of 1897 despite the subsequent spoils being of gold rather than bronze. However it was probably from that campaign that the adage ‘all Sir Garnet’ arose. The Ashanti people with their capital at Kumasi had a tremendous reputation as fighting soldiers, unlike the more peaceful groups along the coast with whom the British had trading relations and felt obliged to protect. The Ashanti had begun an expansionist programme around 1700 which had reached the coast by the end of that century. Matters improved after the visit of Thomas Bowdich (A Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, 1819), but ‘it was not long before a British Governor of all the British forts and trading posts along the Guinea Coast, Sir Charles Macarthy, defeated in a foolhardy expedition against Kumasi, lost his head, which ended up attached to one of the stools in the Asantehene’s stoolhouse’ (William Fagg ‘Ashanti Gold’, The Connoisseur, January 1974, p.41). By 1870 the coastal trading stations were pleading once more with the British government to restrain the Ashanti.
The government were slow to react but in September 1873 Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley set out from Liverpool with twenty-nine officers, a lance-sergeant and one private soldier – the remainder of the force were to be raised locally. However the Fante only raised one thousand men, so after further demands six thousand men arrived on the coast from England early in 1874. These were disciplined and resourceful – ‘all Sir Garnet’ – who survived the attacks of the Ashanti in hostile and unfamiliar terrain to reach Kumasi on 4 February 1874. As part of the Indemnity levied by the Expedition was 50,000oz of gold. Not all of this was paid, but what was levied was sold at auction at Cape Coast castle later that month. Alas, no list of the contents of the auction survived, but the present cap and sandals may well have been bought by the forbear of the previous owner, rather than taken as loot by him.
The cap is of a style used by court dignitaries who wear the hair dressed in a transverse lobe on to which the cap fits. There are several of this form in the in the Museum of Mankind but none are decorated with applied leopards, animals which denote power and usually reserved for the King. So this cap and sandals, if not worn by the Asantehene himself, must have been made for a member of his close family.
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