West Africa, Ghana, Asante (Ashanti, Achanti) people, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. Carved with an integral pole and platform, this is a staff that consists of a small scene with a standing human figure observing an elephant. The figure is of indeterminate sex, wearing only multiple tight necklaces, with his or her hair combed back and styled high up on the head. The elephant has a snake wrapped around its body and nice details, with its tusks and trunk well depicted. The staff is carved from wood and gilded with gold leaf. Size: 3.75" L x 6.4" W x 15.4" H (9.5 cm x 16.3 cm x 39.1 cm); 17.2" H (43.7 cm) on included custom stand.
Hand-carved staffs covered in gold leaf were made as insignia of office for an okyeame, who was a high ranking member of the Asante court and who advised the ruler. One of the okyeame's most important roles was to act as a go-between for a petitioner and the king; the role of intermediary led to the okyeame being called a "linguist" who spoke for someone else, usually dressing up his or her words to sound more appealing. The imagery of the okyeame's staff was meant to tell a proverb, usually one about power and the responsibilities of the ruler.
For a similar object, see The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.475a-c).
Provenance: private New York, USA collection; ex private Merton D. Simpson collection
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