West African Gifts:
Symbolism Adds Extra Meaning

West African gifts keep ancestral
wisdom alive, recall historical events,
and honor brave heroes.

The southern region of West Africa is inhabited by peoples belonging to the Akan language group. Among them, the Ashanti are a major ethnic group in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Many of the West African gifts presented here feature Akan or Ashanti symbols.

These gifts are brought to us by NOVICA in association with National Geographic, and all are Fair Trade gifts. Each gift and individual artisan has a story. We encourage you to read the product details, for a gift is more meaningful when we know something about its place of origin and the people who live there.

Kente cloth

West Africa is well known for its hand loomed "Kente" cloth, which features West African Gifts: Kente cloth from Ghanacolorful patterns woven in narrow strips, which are sewn together to make a larger cloth. The designs may recall historical events, or commemorate heroes, or define social identies.

Kente cloth designs may also symbolize concepts such as forgiveness, responsibility, or success. Kente cloth is also called "proverb cloth" because its patterns are given names which translate into wise sayings or even political commentary. For example, the pattern called "warning against dictatorial rule" translates to "One head does not constitute a council."

The metaphors and messages of Kente cloth designs might help you decide which of these West African gifts will best suit your recipient. For example, this Kente cloth scarf was designed in honor of the wife of Ghana's first president, in a pattern fittingly named "Better Half." That symbolism makes the scarf an especially appropriate gift from husband to wife.

Hand-carved wood gifts

Statuettes and sculptures
West African gifts feature contemporary styles along with traditional, providing you a good selection. This engaging statuette Water Carrier is a little beauty; and the much-respected Akan "Uncle Kwabena" will lend an air of dignity wherever he is displayed.

A pretty Akan "Sweetheart" statuette would be a nice gift for your sweetheart - but be aware that in Ghana, this would be given to the girl you hope to marry. And what West African gifts could be more traditional than a pair of fertility dolls? These are named after an Ashanti queen, "Asantewaa."

Somewhat more modern in style is the Man from the North - northern Ghana, that is. And this charming Mother and Child would be a lovely Mother's Day gift for a mom who enjoys contemporary design.

"Throne ottomans," or stools
These West African gifts are especially significant among the Ashanti, for the Golden Stool is their most sacred treasure. Yes, it's made of gold, a natural resource of Ghana (once called the Gold Coast).

West African Gifts: Ashanti flagAccording to tradition, the Golden Stool was commanded out of the sky by a tribal priest and is believed to contain the soul of the Ashanti people. The silhouette of a stool appears on their flag (left), symbolizing Ashanti unity.

For over 300 years, the Golden Stool has been kept hidden except for very important occasions. The Golden Stool must never contact the ground (it never has); it is so sacred that no one - not even a king - has ever sat on it. The Ashanti have successfully fought off anyone's attempt to seize the Golden Stool (including the British Empire).

Stools in the Ashanti tradition feature a crescent-curved seat atop a base on which a carved figure symbolizes a message. The message conveyed by this sese wood throne ottoman is "Do not be arrogant." The artisan is chief carver for the Ashanti king.

Wooden Masks
Masks are popular West African gifts, an excellent choice for collectors and especially appropriate gifts for actors. There are many styles to choose from.

From the Akwapim people in eastern Ghana is a Ghanaian healer mask. Here is a warrior's mask used to protect the Bete people of Ivory Coast and frighten their enemies; and here is a serene-looking Legendary Chief of the Senufo people of Mali. In a much different style is this village elder of the Ewe people in the Volta region of Ghana.

NOVICA has a large selection of masks from the various peoples of Ghana, as well as other West African countries and other African regions (see drop-down menu), representing a broad spectrum of African heroes and traditions.

Djembe drums
Djembe drums are hand drums, thought to have originated in West African Gifts: djembe drumBenin or Mali. Once associated with voodoo ritual, djembe drums are used throughout West Africa to accompany dancing. They can produce three basic sounds - bass, tone, and slap. Each rhythm is associated with a certain group of people, or a specific dance, occasion or ritual.

Djembe drums, like other West African gifts, use well-known ethnic designs to honor age-old traditions, rituals and heroes. For example, here is a djembe drum decorated with Kente cloth, while this one has a traditional proverb symbol carved into its base.

Wall Decorations

Batik Wall Hangings - NOVICA has a very nice collection, each with loops for a hanging rod. Here is one of my favorites, "Aklowa by Night." Aklowa means village in the Ga language.

Mixed media - A charming collection of wall hangings, made of batik on calico and accented with paint or drawing ink. Here Festival Revelers dance joyfully; the African Hunter features a somewhat bolder design. Nice West African gifts for a man, don't you think?

Paintings - West African paintings by the hundreds are categorized by style, subject, and medium. Here's a link to the "African Culture" category, which includes multiple art styles. You can move among specific styles using the drop down menu at the upper left of the screen.

But Wait... There's More

We hope you've enjoyed this sampling of the West African gifts. You'll find lots of other gift categories on the NOVICA website... jewelry, furniture, handbags, ceramics and more... and it's well set up for browsing.

You will probably notice plenty of customer feedback praising the quality of NOVICA gifts, as well as the excellent service. National Geographic shops take good care of their customers. We find them a joy to deal with, and feel confident that you'll agree.

Symbols and proverbs in West African
gifts bring the wisdom of the ages
to the arts and styles of today.

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Logo photo by Jane M. Sawyer, courtesy of morguefile.com
"Ghana Patterns" by Toomas Jarvet, courtesy of morguefile.com
Other graphics courtesy of Microsoft.