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Bodom and Akosu

Two of the most highly valued beads in West Africa are the Bodom and the Akosu. The Bodom is a treasured bead of the Asante (Ashanti), a dominant people in Ghana, while the Akosu is an important bead of the Ewe, who live in Togo and adjacent Ghana (see map below). Both are beads of kings.

The Bodom, in particular, has received considerable attention, even being the subject of two recent articles (Stanfield 2000-2001; Liu et al. 2001). Most of the article by Liu et al
is technical, but much of Standfield's attempts to demonstrate that the Bodom were made by the Krobo of Ghana.

I cannot agree. As Stanfield himself points out, the word is of Akan origin (the language of the Asante) and was likely introduced to the Krobo by Lamb (1976: 37-38). Seeking the origin of Bodom, Lamb visited a Krobo beadmaker,
a Mr. Tettah (a common surname in Ghana), who "emphatically" said that those he was shown were of Krobo origin. He also made some "Bodom," but these were technically unlike genuine examples.

What, then, is the origin of Bodom? There are two clues. One is that all Bodom are ground or chipped to reveal a dark core. The beads were made by the wet-core powder-glass technique, which we have seen, dates back some 1000 years in what is now Maurtania.

Rather than saliva to hold the core together, as used in Kiffa beads, these large beads (this one is 40 mm [1.6"] in diameter) would have had their core wet by another organic material, such as gum arabic or date juice. The firing would have turned the core dark.

There is also the testimony of the Asante themselves. When Daaku (1969: 266, 315) interviewed the Adanse (who claim to be the original Asante), informants in all 16 villages acknowledged the importance of Bodom and in 12 (3/4s) said that the beads came from the north The same thing was reported by the Asante of Asokore-Koona, who said that Bodom came from north of Jenné in the interior Niger delta (Meyerowitz 1951: 50, n. 2). See map below.

Bodom are probably very old, though we do not have sufficient information to date them. The interplay of traders from ancient Mali (including modern Mauritania and Mali), sometimes called Mandingo people, was an important element in the development of the Asante, due to the trans-Saharan trade for gold with Arab North Africa (Wilke 1961).

On this map of West Africa, the ancient Kingdoms of Mali (vertical lines), Ghana (crosshatched), and Benin (horizontal lines) are shown.

Modern Mali was partly in ancient Mali. However, neither modern Ghana nor Benin were geographically associated with their ancient namesakes.Francis 1993.

Given the antiquity of wet-core powder-glass beadmaking in the ancient overlapping kingdoms of Ghana (cross-hatched on the map above) and Mali (vertical stripes)
and given the testament of the Asante, an origin in or near one of the great cities of these two kingdoms makes perfect sense.

While the Krobo call some of their beads "Bodom," the term is new to them,
apparently introduced by Alastair Lamb in the early 1970s. Their beads are made by the
dry powder-glass method, often by forming two halves and joining them.
This is not the origin of true Bodom.

I have less information about the Akosu, a valuable bead among the Ewe. They differ from the Bodom because they were not made with a wet core. Perhaps they were made by the Ewe themselves some time ago, but this is not certain. This one is 34 mm (1.4") long.

However, in both of these beads (they were presents and their authenticity confirmed by several knowledgeable Ghanaians), gold flakes are visible. They are on the surface of the Akosu and in the core of the Bodom. I believe their presence is not accidental and may be markers of genuine old beads.


Daaku, Kwame Y.
1959 Oral Traditions of Adanse. Legon: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

Lamb, Alastair
1976 Krobo Powder-Glass Beads. African Arts 9(3): 13-39, 93.

Liu, Robert K., Peter M. Ahn and Dudley Giberson
2001 Bodom and Related Beads: Investigating African powder-glass technology.
Ornament 25(2): 28-33.

Meyerowitz, Eva L. R.
1951 The Sacred State of the Akan. London: Faber and Faber

Stanfield, Kirk
2000-2001 The Krobo and Bodom. Beads 12/13: 63-76.

Wilks, Ivor
1961 The Northern Factor in Ashanti History: Begho and the Mande.
Journal of African History 2(1): 25-34.


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