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Linguist (Okyeame) Staff

Arts of Africa

Southern and central Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire have been ruled for several centuries by highly stratified kingdoms that use elaborate symbols of status. Among the Fante and the Akan, high-ranking advisers to the king called linguists (okyeame) carry gold staffs in royal processions. These staffs often have carvings at the top illustrating proverbs or messages from the king to his subjects. At the top of this staff, a mouse attempts to enter a pouch on a cat’s back, illustrating the proverb “It is only a foolish mouse that tries to get into the cat’s bag.” In other words, it is an unwise person who dares to meddle in the king’s business.
MEDIUM Wood, gold leaf
  • Place Made: Central Region, Ghana
  • DATES 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 62 3/4 × 7 × 3 9/16 in. (159.4 × 17.8 × 9 cm) mount: 63 × 7 × 5 1/16 in. (160 × 17.8 × 12.9 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    ACCESSION NUMBER 85.200.1a-d
    CREDIT LINE Designated Purchase Fund and Carll H. de Silver Fund
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION The staff is carved in wood and covered with gold leaf. It is made in three sections, not including the detachable carved finial. Each of the three sections comprising the staff has a carved surface decorated with different motifs, such as herringbone, lozenge-shape and barber pole. The middle of each section is encircled by a raised band with geometric patterns. The finial represents a cat with a mouse crawling up its back towards its pouch which is attached around the cats neck by a cord. The cat's left paw is raised. Condition: Leaf very thin and flaking off in parts.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Fante. Linguist (Okyeame) Staff, 20th century. Wood, gold leaf, 62 3/4 × 7 × 3 9/16 in. (159.4 × 17.8 × 9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Designated Purchase Fund and Carll H. de Silver Fund, 85.200.1a-d. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 85.200.1a-d_PS1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 85.200.1a-d_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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