Weights and Measures in Africa: Akan Gold Weights
The subject of gold weights is complex and multidimensional. It can be understood only when placed in the context of its original cultural environment, which was linked intimately to gold for its physical substance and to the package (dja) in which it came for its sociocultural identity.
The Akan country, on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, was and is an area of gold deposits. This metal is both feared and worshipped. Well before the first contacts with Europeans in the fifteenth century, the Akan people used gold dust as a medium of exchange. However, the concept of “gold weights” came from Western traders (Dutch, Portuguese, English, and French).
The first question to ask is: are the figures really weights? In describing these figures, the Baolé use several different terms: Dja‐yôbwê, sika‐yôbwê, shin‐dra‐yôbwê, nsangan‐yôbwê, ngwa‐yôbwê. Let us look at the meaning of each of them.