The blackened leather and decorative program of this extraordinary Akan hat indicate that it was worn by a person of high military rank. Like the hardened leather amulets covering Akan war shirts, the thick leather of this helmet serves as armor. Attached to its surface are miniature representations of functional and ceremonial weapons. The rifles along the perimeter are based on the double- barreled flintlock rifles used by the British army in Ghana and symbolize military power. Powder kegs surmounting the hat suggest the wearer’s readiness to enter battle. State ceremonial swords with their characteristic curved blades, openwork design, and barbell-shaped handles are centrally placed, emblematic of bravery and valor; military officers took oaths of allegiance on such swords.
Three miniature powder kegs adorn the ridge of this hat, which belonged to an Akan gun bearer or royal guard. Gun bearers (atuotumfo) joined the ranks of royal Akan attendants soon after the Danish introduced the musket to the region in the late seventeenth century, prompting the creation of their signature hide cap. The hat is decorated with a local curve-bladed afena sword surrounded by double-barreled rifles—used by the British army in Ghana in the late nineteenth century—to symbolically reinforce Akan might in the face of British colonialism.
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Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
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