Swordbearer's Helmet


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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.

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  • Title: Swordbearer's Helmet
  • Creator: Akan
  • Date Created: 1875/1950
  • Physical Dimensions: w21 x h14.6 x d8.9 cm (overall)
  • Type: Costume Accessory
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Fur and gold
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.