The Golden Trophy Head: a Ghanaian masterpiece, displayed in… the United Kingdom?

After colonisation African heritage was spread throughout the world, many African countries, including Ghana, are attempting to reclaim their heritage. – Clément Guntern

Made of gold, probably in Kumasi, once capital of Asante Empire, this trophy head is typical of the local production during the Asante period. This kind of craft is firmly rooted in Ghanaian tradition and golden artefacts such as these were traded in the region for centuries. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Asante extended from southern Ghana to present-day Ivory Coast and Togo, conquering and developing administrative institutions. State regalia such as swords but also gold-weights were distributed by the king as a way of incorporating defeated enemies[1].

It probably depicts a decapitated enemy, accused of murder around 1765, his skull being cast in gold. These kinds of golden ornament, namely golden heads, were attached to ceremonial swords used in public execution and were owned by the State[2].

The trade of gold with European states began with the Portuguese in the 15th century and continued until the 19th with other nationalities and particularly with British traders. But tensions arose which eventually led to the Anglo-Asante war in 1873 during which British troops raided Kumasi and seized many Asante objects, including this trophy. Nowadays, it is owned by the Wallace Collection in London.

Since gaining independence, Ghana has demanded the return of various historical objects, including the golden head in 1974, but without success. Today, the issue of restitution of looted objects during the colonial period is central in European cultural policies. Emmanuel Macron recently argued that such objects should be returned to their original owners[3].

Ghana’s rich cultural heritage represents a country-specific resource which is widely unexploited because of its dispersion around the world.

Clément Guntern


[1]The Wallace Collection, Trophy Head: Description, [on line] (13.05.19)

[2] National Museum of Ghana, History of Ghana, [on line] (13.05.19)

[3]Th British Museum, African Gold-weights in the British Museum: The origins and history of gold-weights, [on line], (13.05.19)