NPR

Senegal's Stunning Gold Jewelry ... And The Controversial Women Who Wore It

An exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art highlights intricate gold work that nearly disappeared — as well as its past ties to a morally complicated group of powerful women.
A Senegalese woman wears clothing and gold jewelry inspired by the fashions of the country's powerful signares -- women who lived in the 18th and 19th century. The photo is featured in the exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. Source: Fabrice Monteiro

Imagine if we'd never heard of China's Ming dynasty vases, Russia's Fabergé eggs or Ghana's Kente cloth.

Yet it so happens that Senegal boasts an artistic practice just as unparalleled — but which has largely gone unrecognized beyond its borders: For centuries goldsmiths there have been crafting some of the world's most intricate gold jewelry.

And it's a tradition with a fascinating history, dating to the 12th century and intimately connected to a powerful class of women whose rise in the 1700s was impressive ... and morally

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR6 min readPolitics
Impeachment Inquiry Update: What The Past Week Revealed About The Ukraine Affair
President Trump commissioned Rudy Giuliani as his top guy for Ukraine and the White House also appointed "three amigos" to carry out its policy. The administration says nothing's wrong here.
NPR3 min readPolitics
Mulvaney Walks Back Ukraine Remarks, Admits It Wasn't A 'Perfect Press Conference'
The acting White House chief of staff denied what he previously said: that defense funding to Ukraine was frozen in part over the demand that Kyiv dig up dirt on Trump's political rivals.
NPR5 min read
When Snakes Slither Into Bangkok Homes, This Is The Wrangler Who Gets Rid Of Them
When pythons, cobras and pit vipers show up, Pinyo Pukpinyo, a sergeant in Bangkok's fire department, is the expert who catches them. He's been bitten 20 times but says his work "makes me happy."