Asante
Ghana
Linguist Staff with Rooster and Hen (Okyeame Poma)
Early/mid-20th century

Wood and gold leaf
170.2 x 15.2 x 20.3 cm (67 x 6 x 8 in.)
Gift of Richard Faletti, the Faletti Family Collection, 1999.376.1–3

The Asante kingdom was the most powerful of numerous states that emerged at the beginning of the 15th century within the present-day country of Ghana. The kingdom’s position between the rich gold fields of the north and the coast, where European ships vied for trade, assured its wealth and maintained its focus on gold as a symbol of affluence and power. Asante art is often related to oral traditions, including messages expressed through proverbs, sayings, or accounts of history. Staffs with decorative finials such as this one bearing the figures of a rooster and hen are owned by the official spokesman, or linguist, of an Asante chief as symbols of his office. This staff was made by covering a finely detailed wooden sculpture with thin sheets of gold foil. This technique is used to make other royal regalia, from the hilts of ceremonial swords to embellishments on royal crowns.

Since the most prolific patrons of Asante art were the royal courts, the messages conveyed in commissioned objects usually relate to governing or social behavior. In the 1920s it became popular for the finials of Asante linguist staffs to illustrate proverbs. This finial illustrates a proverb that states, “The hen knows when it is dawn, but leaves it to the rooster to announce.” While on one level it is a reference to relations between men and women, the saying held an even deeper meaning for the Asante: the contrast of the decision-making power of a chief (the rooster) with the wisdom of the elders (the hen) and the need for linguists’ diplomacy in mediating between the two.

Asante
Ghana
Man's Wrapper (Kente)
early/mid-20th century

Rayon, twenty-three narrow woven strips with bands of plain weave, weft-faced warp-ribbed plain weave, plain weave with supplementary patterning wefts; plain weave with supplementary brocading wefts; pieced
323.3 x 212.8 cm (127 1/4 x 83 5/8 in.)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David C. Ruttenberg, 1986.1043

Since the early 18th century, kente cloth has been an important part of Asante royal regalia. Known for its bold, contrasting colors and dense patterns, kente has a striking visual impact when worn. Traditionally, Asante men weave kente. They begin by making a long strip, two- to three-inches wide, on a horizontal loom. When finished, the strip is cut into sections of equal length and sewn together edge to edge to make a complete cloth. The heaviest and most elaborate garments may join as many as 24 strips.

Though once restricted to royal use, today kente is more accessible to the public. It is often worn on special religious or social occasions, including weddings, child-naming ceremonies, burials, and funerals. Since Ghana became an independent nation in 1957, the popularity of this cloth has grown beyond the nation’s borders, taking on additional meaning as a Pan-African symbol and a reflection of pride and identity for African Americans.

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