Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

African Treasure Storage

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

Asante treasure chest used for storing personal items.  It is covered in copper and embossed with designs of people and patterns.
Asante Treasure Chest Used for Storing Personal Items

This treasure chest has an intriguing story to tell - of colonialism, culture, trade and trickery. It comes from the Asante Empire, which thrived from 1750 onwards, in what is now modern day Ghana. 


This copper-covered chest was used by for storing items of value or importance (gold jewellery, fine cloth and ceremonial swords). However, when the chest was taken from the Asante by British Army officers in 1896, at the end of the Asante war, it was empty. The Asante knew the British would steal valuable items as spoils of war, so they hid them, leaving behind the empty treasure chest. 


The soldiers who took away this chest also found a bronze jug, made in England in the 13th Century. We still do not know how it came to be in Kumasi in 1896.


Who are the Asante?

The Asante Empire developed as a union of many small kingdoms, overseen by one strong central ruler, the Asantehene. The Asante gained control of the gold mines and gold trade in their region, and overpowered their neighbours. When the British began establishing their overseas empire, they wanted to control local trade and tried to do so by waging war with the Asante. 


Discussion Ideas

  • What do you understand by the word 'empire'? 
  • What countries do you think were in the British Empire?
  • Does the British Empire still exist in some form today?
  • What kinds of places display treasure these days?
  • Why do you think this treasure chest was made of copper?
  • For what sort of reasons do you think the British took Asante treasures?
  • How does this act make you feel?


Activity Ideas

  • Creative writing: When the British stole the Asante chest, they also took a Medieval jug that came from Britain. How do you think the jug came to Ghana? Write a story or create a comic strip, showing how the jug might have got from England to Ghana.
  • Debate: In the past, British people often took valuable or culturally significant items from other countries. Do you think we should return these objects to their homes?
    - Research two objects that have sparked this sort of debate (for instance, the Elgin marbles).
    - Use the information you have found to build arguments for and against returning such objects. This could form a whole-class debate.
  • Design a treasure chest: What important items would you want to keep in a treasure chest? Design your own to accommodate those things. Think about materials you'd use. How would you make it secure? 
  • Use the links below to find out more about the history of Ghana.