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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

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