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 like 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 finial refers to the proverb, "The hen knows well when it is dawn, but leaves it to the cock to announce." This proverb may reference the decision- making power of the chief, represented by the rooster, as opposed to the wisdom of the elders, represented by the hen, and the role the linguist plays in mediating between the two. This staff, thus, is not only a royal insignia, but also a symbol of the shrewd and eloquent diplomat that the okyeame, or linguist, must be.