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The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

Houston philanthropist Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., had a passion for collecting, a fascination with gold art objects, and a desire to share them with the world. Like the cultures that fashioned these treasures, he valued gold not for its intrinsic value but for its spiritual meaning. The extensive collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian gold that he gave the MFAH are a remarkable legacy. Among the highlights are a golden staff created by the Akan peoples of Ghana, a rare burial mask from Java, and jewelry made by the Moché culture of Peru.

Sword-Bearer's Helmet
Late 19th -early 20th century
Fur and gold

5 3/4 x 8 1/4 x 3 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Africa
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

For centuries, Akan chiefs and court members have worn a variety of exotic headdresses. Some of the most spectacular headdresses are worn by sword-bearers in ceremonies and on special occasions. This helmet, made from albino antelope skin and decorated with hammered- and cast-gold designs, is very rare.

The Akan peoples of Ghana, especially the Asante, take great pride in their heritage, oral tradition, and gold-making abilities. Inspired by their rich history, the Asante have produced spectacular military regalia that remains virtually unchanged since it was first introduced in the 15th century. The powerful and wealthy Asante fought many wars to protect their profitable trade. As early as the 17th century, visitors wrote about the Asante's rich regalia, which today forms part of the state treasury and is used on special occasions.

Swords play a central role in Akan rituals, including oath-of-office ceremonies and purification rites for the chief's soul. The individuals who carry these swords for the chief are called sword-bearers. They wear special headdresses, many of which are decorated with gold rams' horns, a symbol of bravery and conviction.