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HOME : African & Tribal Art : AS.On Loan : Akan Zoomorphic Gilt-Wood Linguist Staff Finial
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Akan Zoomorphic Gilt-Wood Linguist Staff Finial - DK.043 (LSO)
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 15.25" (38.7cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Gilt
Condition: Very Fine

Additional Information: AS

Location: UAE
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This striking gilded zoomorphic sculpture is the finial from a translator staff, which was made by one of the many tribes that make up the Akan polity of Ghana. It is a short section of plain wood with a gilded band around the base (the staff would originally have been longer). The finial comprises a geometrically-decorated T- bar with a ram’s head at each end, each with incised eyes and curved horns. On each “flank” there is a small eminence intended to represent a shell. The ram’s body is surmounted by the figure of an elephant that is comprehensively decorated with incised herringbone hatching. The head is bare of incised detail, and is a superbly schematic representation of that animal’s complex anatomy. The ears are folded back and the eyes are close together right above the tightly-curled trunk. The difference in rendering between the rams and the elephant make it clear that the sculptor was more familiar with the former than the latter, and it is thus probable that he was a court artist who was engaged with creating social-signalling regalia such as this, the look of which was more important than the detail.

The Akan are a loose assemblage of tribes – including the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Ashanti, the Baoulé, the Anyi, the Brong, the Fante and the Nzema – that share general cultural trends while maintaining separate tribal identities. Their society is highly ritualised, with numerous gods under a main deity who varies according to the group in question (Onyame – the Supreme One – is the Asante deity), and a host of lesser gods (Abosom) who are mostly connected with the natural world (earth, ocean, rivers, animals etc). The society is ruled by Asantahenes, and a host of minor chiefs who claim royal status through their connection with the land and the founders of villages upon it. One factor that unites the Akan is the fact that they took a golden stool as their emblem and rose up against the European invaders in the 18th century. They have also staved off interest from Northern Islamic groups. The main reason for this imperial interest was the long history of gold mining and gold working in the area, which has been taking place for at least 600 years. The Akan consider gold to be the embodiment of sunlight and a physical manifestation of life’s vital force, or “kra”. Most of the economy is based upon the trade in gold, which is most prominently used for the manufacture of regalia for the royal courts but also found its way into almost every aspect of elite life.

As stated, this is the head of a linguist (or translator) staff. Known as kyemae poma, they are still used in Ghana as markers of special status within and between royal courts, as diplomats and translators. They are typically zoomorphic, with hollow bases, on a blackwood staff banded with gold plates at intervals. They were based upon the European habit of carrying silver-topped canes, and thus are a relatively late development in the Akan cultural repertoire. Courtly regalia were decorated with designs that were referred to as “abosodeå”, or “things of the fetish”, and which held some significance for the user or the tribe in question. The high status of ivory and elephants in West African society might imply that the owner of this staff had a high status within his community.

T. Garrard, 1989. 'Gold of Africa'. Prestel-Verlag Publishing, Munich

D. Ross, 'The Iconography of Asante Sword Ornaments' African Arts, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Oct., 1977), pp. 16-91.

- (DK.043 (LSO))


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