From the Vault: Akan sandals

Take a peek into our 14,000+ collection with our new blog series, From the Vault! Every other week, we're sharing interesting stories about one of our artefacts.

What is the provenance of this pair? When did they enter the BSM collection?

This pair dates to the middle of the 20th century. They were acquired by Mrs. Bata in 1990.

Are there any features that distinguish this pair from other footwear from the same period and geographical location?

Leaders of Akan communities, many of whom are found throughout Ghana and the Ivory Coast, traditionally wore sandals embellished with Gold leaf. While these sandals are structurally similar to other Akan sandals, these were never meant to be worn. Instead they signify a “back-up” pair of sandals for an Akan leader and would be carried by one of his many sandal bearers for celebratory or ceremonial occasions.

Can you elaborate more on the materials used to make this pair?

Although this piece was made using a pair of actual leather sandals, they are bound together sole to sole and edged in elaborate gold leaf a detail typically not found on sandals designed to be worn. The large gleaming gold-leafed figures of chameleons that are attached to the thongs, however, are commonly found on the shoes worn by rulers. The use of sculptural symbols such as these are often used to convey messages linked to proverbs. The chameleon is one of the most common and is used to connote a range of proverbs such as “the world is like the skin of the chameleon, it changes fast.”

Who would have worn this pair and where or for what occasion?

The feet of the Amanhene, or Paramount Chiefs, of the Akan are never supposed to directly touch the earth. When seated, a ruler’s sandal-clad feet rest on a cushion and sandal bearers stand by with spare often symbolic pairs such as this example. Gold, and gold embellished objects, were a way for the leader to show the wealth of the community to the public. Pieces that are damaged or worn out are often sold, this piece features extensive repair to the gold-leaf.

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