West Africa, Ghana, Asante (Ashanti, Achanti) people, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. One of my absolute favorites, this is a wooden staff, composed of two pieces, capped by a large elephant and decorated with shimmering gold sheet, black cloth, and woven yarn. The elephant is completely covered with gold which conforms to the incised motifs on the animal's body; this style is mirrored on the base and center, which are also wrapped in gold leaf. The elephant's body is large, with its long trunk trailing to the ground, where its tip rests. The skin is scored, giving it a wrinkled, wizened appearance. The size and strength of the elephant makes it a revered animal among the Asante. Size: 6" W x 25.5" H (15.2 cm x 64.8 cm); 26" H (66 cm) on included custom stand.
Hand-carved staffs decorated with gold leaf were created to act 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 is to act as a go between for a petitioner and the king; the role of intermediary has led to the okyeame being called a "linguist" who communicates for someone else to the king. The imagery of the okyeame's staff is meant to tell a proverb, usually one about power and the responsibilities of the ruler.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-Mildred Wiley Estate collection, Englewood, New Jersey, USA, acquired 2004
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Small losses to the gold sheet as shown. Similarly, the cloth has some losses, also visible in the photographs. The form is well preserved.