Objects
UEW Team

anonymous
about 1990
wood
length 55cm, width 28cm, height 42.5cm
Ghana National Museum, Accra
Ghana National Museum

‘FUNTUMFUNEFU-DԑNKYԑMFUNEFU’ STOOL

The art-cum-utilitarian object, ‘Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu’ stool, with useful educational relevance in the Ghanaian society and globally in terms of its interpretations and implications for peaceful co-existence features in this article. The stool prominently bears the ‘Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu’ Adinkra design that gives identity to the stool. This article discusses the complexity of this allegorical image and its multifaceted cultural interpretations useful for harmonious political, nationalistic and international relationship and its relevance in the training of global citizens. It also hammers on the need to strive for oneness irrespective of one’s political affiliation, social standing, physique or race.

UEW Team
UEW Team

The Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu stool is a carved traditional wooden stool designed with an Akan symbol known as Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu (pronounced ‘fuun-tum-fu-ne-fu den-cheem-fu-ne-fu). This type of stool called asԑsԑgua in Fante (a dialect of Akan people from Ghana) is an art-cum-utilitarian object. It is basically composed of three main parts namely the animu (top) which is the seat; the mfinfinin (middle) which bears the design that gives identity to the stool; and the wiabour (base) which is the part that touches the ground and gives stability to the stool (Antubam, 1963; Amenuke, Dogbe, Asare & Ayiku, 1991). In this particular image, the middle portion, which is the focal consideration for this presentation, is created with the Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol.  The size of the stool is composed of a base that measures 53cm x 28cm, the top arc-shaped seat that gives the stool a length of 55cm and an overall height of 42.5cm.

 

The stool was presented as a special gift to the Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), who doubled as the then Head of State, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings by the Chiefs and people of Dormaa in the Bono Region of Ghana. It was brought to the Ghana National Museum through the State protocol in 1992. Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings led Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (A.F.R.C) to power through coup d’état on June 4, 1979 and prepared the grounds for the coming of the third republican constitution. In the same year, Dr. Hilla Limann was inaugurated as the president of the third republic after winning the election.  Rawlings returned to power on December 31, 1981 through another military takeover with his Provisional National Defence Council (P.N. D.C) of which he was the chair. Rawlings’ PNDC party stayed in power for almost eleven years before working out for the adoption of the Fourth Republican constitution through a referendum on April 28, 1992 (Essel, 2019). Subsequently, presidential election was held, which he led the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to win. Though the exact date he received the stool as a gift is unknown, it might have been received within 1981 to 1992, judging from the period of his military regimes and constitutional terms of office before the Ghana National Museum received the stool as part of its collections.

 

The artist who carved this stool is anonymous. Within the context of the Ghanaian traditional creative work productions, this is not strange, since artworks produced in precolonial and traditional Ghanaian societies were hardly signed by the artists who produced them. This was because the artworks were communal, that is, they were produced for use by the community. The chiefs and kings had varied proficient artists in their courts or communities who produced artworks for the community. With the Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu stool being a special gift to the then president of the state, it might have been created by a revered and creative carving-artist in the Dormaa community.

 

The Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol falls within tangible artistic creations which takes its name from the Akan expression for Siamese crocodile. Akan is a major Ghanaian language, which is spoken by about 48 percent of Ghana’s total population as first language, and by an additional 35 percent as additional first language or second language (2010 Population and Housing Census). The symbol derives its name from an Akan proverb which suggests that the Siamese crocodiles share a common stomach and yet struggle for food. Semantically, fun means stomach while funtum means ‘put together’ or ‘mixed together’.  Funtum also represents the rubber tree that produces a milky sticky substance used to glue items together. Fu-ne-fu (literally, ‘stomach and stomach’) represents two stomachs joined together. Dԑnkyԑm is crocodile. Dԑnkyԑmfunefu, therefore, means ‘two crocodiles with stomachs joined together’. On the other hand, funtum, as verb, also means ‘to stir something up with tension’, generally producing dust. This also draws attention to the struggle or the confusion that comes with the two crocodiles struggling to feed.

funtumfunefu 1 20200301 1484479336

 

The Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol (see Figure above), is a graphical representation of two crocodiles rendered in silhouette in a perpendicular orientation with a conjoined and centred stomach, which is a common food receptacle. There are four juxtaposed arc-like lines interspersed and connected by four diagonal lines, creating a rhombic shape at the centre of the symbol. The four arc-shaped lines suggest the limbs, with the prominent sharp-tapered edges attached to the forelimbs placing emphasis on the cephalic regions. At a casual glance, the idealised limbs appear to be same in size, yet a close observation reveals that the forelimbs slightly outsize the hindlimbs. Two tadpole-shaped linearity with sharp-tapered edges placed perpendicularly to fuse with the limbs give a heightened impression of two reptile figures put together.

The Akan expression fun, which is the stomach in the case of the Siamese crocodiles, has two levels of meaning in Akan worldview, the superficial and the hidden. The Siamese crocodiles have a common stomach yet the two heads scramble for food. Each tongue yearns to have a taste of the food, though the gulps of food consumed by each enter a common receptacle. The complexity of this allegorical image could also be found in its multifaceted cultural interpretations.

 

Criteria for Selection (Educational Relevance & Quality)

The Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol belongs to the family of Adinkra symbols. The symbols encapsulate the general Ghanaian philosophical thoughts and ideologies, cultural values, beliefs and practices. Its origin and first usage is traced to the Asante nation state, which is part of present day Ghana (Rattary, 1927). Its usage predates the 19th century as recorded by Bowdich (1819).

The multi-layered meaning of the Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol tells its usefulness and educational relevance in the Ghanaian society. Due to its historical, socio-cultural and national importance in Ghana, Adinkra features in the design of decorative and functional artworks. The Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol designed into carved wooden stool symbolises unity in diversity, democracy, shared destiny and female-male duality. Giving visual annotation to the idea of unity in diversity, the compositional structure of the Funtumfunefu-Dԑnkyԑmfunefu symbol shows formidable stability, an attribute of unity. There is deliberate inflation of emphasis depicted by the prominent sharp tapered edges attached to the forelimbs, which connotes power, energy and aggressiveness in the process of scrambling for ‘food’ by the Siamese crocodile. Viewers who do not understand the true symbolism of the image sometimes greet the aggressive depiction and the centred common stomach with negative interpretation. However, in the same stable composition, the graceful movement that bedews the tadpole-shaped figures placed at right-angled position creates an impression of diversity.

 

Methods/Interpretation/Research Questions

The asԑsԑgua (stool) in Ghana symbolises the soul of the society and serves as inoffensive symbolic link between the people or the subjects and their head of state or king (Antubam, 1963). It implies that the stool has both political and nationalistic useful to the citizenry and their ruler. In this instance, the stool reminds its users and observers of the need to engage in activities that will lead to unity rather than divisive tendencies. It teaches the Ghanaian society of shared destiny and the need to strive for oneness irrespective of one’s political affiliation, social standing, physique or race. The integration of the Funtufunefu Denkyemfunefu symbol into the political significations of stool symbolism therefore combines the essence of communal leaving and nationalistic feeling with power and governance. Just as the Funtufunefu Denkyemfunefu stool symbolises unity in diversity, and nationalism, the coat of arms of Germany also symbolises national unity. In this sense, both are thematised on unity and national consciousness.  Both designs are abstracted animal figures and play allegorical role in the semiotic interpretations of the symbols.

 

funtumfunefu 6 20200301 2033285868

 

The coat of arms of Germany

 

In terms of artistic presentation, both were rendered in silhouette. The Funtufunefu Denkyemfunefu stool gives expressive meaning to unity by underscoring that individual difference, diverse shades of opinions and social standing that usually operate in the search for unity but must end in oneness of purpose for the national good. The broad vertical lines that conjoin the flanked arc-shaped lines to give impression of the wings of the eagle figure suggest strength, power and authority of the Germany coat of arms (Figure 3).  

The common symbolic ideology in both the Germany coat of arms and the Funtufunefu Denkyemfunefu stool is to strive for oneness. Exploring the design concepts, socio-cultural and identity connections between these two images create opportunities for new levels of greater bilateral understanding and integration.

Obviously, interrogating images of this nature and identifying their essence within their traditional setting vis-à-vis other cultures is likely to help to eliminate prejudices about visual cultures among nations and reduce the barriers in visual communication.

 

References

  • Amenuke, S. K., Dogbe, B. K., Asare, F. D. K., Ayiku, R. K., & Baffoe, A. (1991). General
  • knowledge in art for senior secondary schools. London: Evans Brothers Ltd.
  • Antubam, K. (1963). Ghana’s heritage of culture. Leipzag: Koehler & Amelang.
  • Bowdich, T. E. (1819). Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee. London: Cass.doi: 10.1017/CBO9781107444621.
  • Essel, O. Q. (2019). Dress fashion politics in Ghanaian presidential inauguration ceremonies from 1960 to 2017. Fashion and Textiles Review, 1(3), 35-55.
  • Rattary, R. S. (1927). Religion and art in Ashanti. . London: Oxford University Press.
Bea Lundt
Bea Lundt

 

I am fascinated by the Ashanti-stool, being a symbol of soul of society, “to house the spirit of the Asante nation - living, dead and yet to be born” (Wikipedia), as it is described in this article. Travelling in Ghana very often, I had been told the background-story of this object again and again, so I know its importance to the people. Additionally, you can find several publications describing its meaning.

 

The beginnings are rooted in the 17th century when the Asante-confederacy was founded.  As the legend tells, the Golden Stool fell from the sky as a religious legitimation of the King Osei Tutu, representing wealth and power of the region. During colonial times the Asante defended the stool against the British. They had been very successful to repulse the European invaders until they were finally beaten. So, for me the Golden Stool is also a symbol of anticolonial defence. People identified with this object as the representative symbol of their culture and protested any robbery of it. The stool as the main symbol of authority of the confederation gives the feeling of security and duration. Every 5th year it is presented to the public during the Akwasidae-Festival in Kumasi. As I read, there is also a Golden Stool of other ethnic groups, Denkyira and Ga. It is very interesting that this object can be constructed in different shapes and can also be decorated in quite different ways with additional meanings.

 

 

 

Golden Stool 1935 r

 

Golden Stool of Asante on its throne, the hwedom dwa, with its immediate caretaker (1935), United Kingdom Government, © public domain 

 

 

One of the most exciting buildings I have ever seen, is the Golden Jubilee House (Flagstaff House) in Accra, which is the Presidential Palace and office of the President of Ghana (completed in 2009). Its architecture is following the model of the Golden Stool of the Ashanti people.

 

 

Golden Jubilee House r

 

Golden Jubilee House - Flagstaff House (open access, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Golden_Jubilee_House.jpg)

 

 

The example of decoration which is chosen in this article is the Adinkra-symbol for „unity in diversity“. It always remembers me of the European story of Menenius Agrippa and the plebs, a narration which is bequeathed since Greek antiquity. It uses the body as metaphor for the society. The stomach is the symbol for the ruling elite. All the other parts of the body are in a revolt against the stomach, whom they define to be lazy. As the story moves on, they learn that they have to accept the different organs with its different functions because all of them need each other and work together. Also the two crocodiles have to accept that they live with a common belly whilst they both gain different food, which might be the symbol of diversity of the individualistic interests and spiritual goods from outside. They are equal beings which is an important difference to the European story which is used to play down rightful claims of disadvantaged groups.

 

The comparison of this symbol with the German coat of arms, the eagle: Germany has a quite different history and structure as e.g. Great Britain, France or Spain, countries who have a long tradition being structured centralized. The federal organized structure in Germany makes „diversity“ of the different regions much stronger in our consciousness than the longing for oneness. The state “Germany” just exists since the end of the 19th century; it comprises a hybrid population with many migrants from all over the world. It has to be blamed for two world wars and was divided in 1945; so the centres changed.

 

The eagle is a very old symbol found in the old Orient, e.g. in Egypt. Today it is also used by other countries like Austria or the USA. So it is not a specific part of the German culture or political tradition. Also, the traditional setting of this figure is joined to problematic contexts and even has a negative meaning as it often represented imperial endeavours, dictatorship, holocaust, state control and militarism. Very often the eagle is designed in a satirical critical way.  A collection of this caricatures can be found in the “Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany) in Bonn. It might be pedagogically interesting to follow these different performances and messages of the original pattern of this bird.

 

 

Reference

Catherine Meredith Hale: Ananse Stools and the Matrilineage. Doctoral Dissertation Harvard University 2013; openly available via https://www.google.com/url?q=https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11004913/Hale_gsas.harvard_0084L_11004.pdf?sequence%3D3%26isAllowed%3Dy&source=gmail&ust=1594720839716000&usg=AFQjCNHu7lCXklUnOk2v6aQFdM2GjPKefw"> https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11004913/Hale_gsas.harvard_0084L_11004.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y