Ashanti Linguist's Staff with Fish Finial

A Matter of Words

   Linguist's Staff Depicting Fish; Ghana, West Africa; I.D. # A1500-116
  Linguist's Staff Depicting Fish; Ghana, West Africa;20th C.; Carved and Painted Wood; 84 W x 39.5 D x 31 H inches; I.D. # A1500-116; $1,995

If you really want to know what’s going on with the government of the Ashanti People in Ghana, West Africa, take a long listen to the Orator or the Linguist. Part counselor, sage, storyteller and performance artist, the Orator is to the chief what our Press Secretary is to the President; except the similarity ends there. Instead of answering questions at a podium, the Orator’s job is to recite proverbs meant to interpret the policies of the Chief in an engaging, even entertaining way. In the Ashanti language there are approximately 3,600 proverbs. Collectively, they represent the sum of Ashanti wisdom. It can take a lifetime for an Orator to learn, comprehend, and master when, how, and why to recite these proverbs; but only an instant to display each one as a detachable finial on a staff like this week’s New Arrival.

Linguist's Staff Depicting Fish; Ghana, West Africa; I.D. # A1500-116  

Detail of staff showing original finish ; I.D. # A1500-116


This week’s New Arrival features a Linguist’s Staff from the royal courts of the Ashanti Kingdom. The authority of the Orator is reinforced by a staff they carry when speaking, the finial depicting a proverb applicable to the situation at hand. The proverb this staff depicts says, “You do not see what the fish sees everyday in the ocean!” These words could just as easily be aimed at the Chief as the audience. The word fish is both singular and plural and neither Orators nor the proverbs they recite discriminate among those willing to listen. This proverb may mean it is the Chief who sees something the people do not or just the opposite. Either way, it is a petition for greater transparency, truth, and clarity from those in power. It is also a reminder how words are relevant in Africa and America alike.