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17. Ceremonial Stool
17. Ceremonial Stool
Stools are enormously significant for the Akan and are used in a variety of contexts. They constitute an important part of the furnishings of a household, carry symbolic meanings as icons of ritual power, and act as repositories of the souls of their deceased owners. The brass-covered stool in the Art Institute's collection most likely would have accompanied its owner to a public ceremony. Intended for display, it incorporates distinctive formal elements that reflect the patron's wealth, status, and power. As is typical of the usual Akan stools, its carved, wooden, rectangular form consists of three parts--a top, a mid-section, and a base. 
17. Ceremonial Stool Ghana; Akan
Early or mid- twentieth century Wood, brass; 43.8 x 62.2 x 32.4 cm (17'/4 x 24/2 x 123/4 in.) Restricted gift of Mrs. James W. Alsdorf, 1995-148
The Art Institute's stool combines two distinct types. The first is the two-tiered, abstract form called obi-te-obi-so-dwa (one- sits-atop-another stool). This imagery visually communicates, and indeed validates, Akan social hierarchy, comprising individuals of diverse rank working in harmony.  The second or lower tier, featuring two crocodile motifs on front and back, reflects the stool form known as adenkyemdwa (crocodile seat). Important ritual objects (sometimes even altars) of Asante gods may be displayed on some stools during important public ceremonies. The sheet brass that covers the stool enhances the piece's significance since brass (together with silver) is a preferred metal of the Akan religious elite. Moreover, the hammered, linear repousse patterns-dots, circles, quatrefoils, lozenges, and crescents-that embellish the surface are reminiscent of designs usually found on Akan soulwashers' badges. Thus this stool must have belonged to either a priest or a politician with considerable ritual status.
FIGURE 2 An Asante carver making a ceremonial stool.
Ahwia (near Kumasi), Asante region, Ghana. Photo: Nii Quarcoopome.
As symbols of authority, Akan stools are now inseparable from the idea of chiefship, the highest Akan political office. Not only must every Akan leader receive one as his personal, official emblem, but his legitimacy is often predicated on his use of a communally owned stool at his installation. A communal or "ancestral" stool, such as the Asante golden stool, serves as a sacred collective symbol believed to embody the spirit or soul of the state. Personal stools owned by individual Akan leaders, however, are also highly regarded and may eventually become ritual objects after their owners die. Stools of deceased chiefs are ritually blackened with the blood of sacrificial animals and are carefully preserved.
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