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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Akan Gold : Akan Zoomorphic Gold-Plated Linguist Staff Finial
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Akan Zoomorphic Gold-Plated Linguist Staff Finial - SP.690 (LSO)
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 9.5" (24.1cm) high
Collection: African Art
Style: Gilt
Medium: Gold
Condition: Extra Fine

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 made from wood, carved into the likeness of an elephant balanced on a pear, using its trunk to move what is presumably the stalk, while a parrot-like bird is perching alongside. The quality of the rendering is superb. The surface is highly variable, but is everywhere adorned with linear raised hatching and floral designs that are accentuated by the fine application of gold leaf. The bird is exquisitely carved, with a long, curved beak and all-over linear cross-hatching to suggest the texture of feathers. It bears a strong resemblance to the “true” (i.e. tail-less) parrots of West Africa, and appears to be eating the pear upon which it is perching. The elephant is out-of-scale in terms of size, but is charmingly well-carved and gilded.

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. While the significance of the bird is uncertain, these staffs were always carved with some specific significance in mind; what is certain is that this is a superb piece of African artwork and a valuable addition to any collectin of the genre.

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.

- (SP.690 (LSO))


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