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Traditions & Encounters: Art of Africa, Oceania & Native North America

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Stool

10 3/4 x 18 x 9 in. (27.3 x 45.7 x 22.9 cm)

Unknown, Asante
Ghanaian

Object Type: Woodwork
Medium and Support: Wood
Credit Line: Anonymous gift
Accession Number: 1962.24
Location: Currently on view
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In many African cultures, objects (such as carved figures and masks) can act as physical surrogates for spirits wishing to communicate and interact with the living. Stools are central objects in Asante spirituality. The Asante believe the stool used in life houses the owner’s soul in death. This is based in the story of The Golden Stool that descended from the heavens to land in (and thereby legitimize) the lap of the first Asante king. The Asante saying goes, “A man with no stool is a man with no dignity.”
[Gallery label text, 2009]

The treatment of stools as sacred objects is unique to the Asante kingdom - an Akan empire founded by the great leader Osei Tutu in the late seventeenth century. The tradition began with the great Golden Stool which legend relates floated down from the sky and fell in the lap of Osei Tutu. To this day, the Golden Stool stands as a representation of the soul, or spirit (sunsum) of the Asante people. It is not a throne, but rather a powerful, sacred object, that is guarded by each successive king and forbidden to be sat upon or to touch the ground.

The most lavish stools are rewarded to important chiefs or members of the royal court, but commoners also maintain more modest stools. The stool is said to absorb some of the sunsum, or spirit, of his owner. Such an intimate link between owner and stool is reflected in the treatment of the stool after the owner's death. A high official's stool is linked to his role in office and when the owner dies, it is said that "a stool has fallen." The stool is then "blackened" and kept on its side in a separate "stool room." The soul of the ancestor is said to be embodied in the blackened stool.

[Gallery label text]

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