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20th C. Ashanti Gilt Wood Linguist Finial w/ Hair

West Africa, Ghana, Asante (Ashanti, Achanti) people, ca. mid 20th century CE. A gold leaf-covered carved wood finial in the form of a large boss atop a short pole with a small head in relief at the base. Below that is a wrap of coarse-woven, bright red textile and a cascade of brown and blonde, slightly curled horse hair. Above and around the face are incised lines, checks, and Vs that create a beautiful textured surface that catches the eye from many different angles. This piece may also have been used as a fly whisk. Size: 4.25" W x 13.75" H (10.8 cm x 34.9 cm); 19.75" H (50.2 cm) on included custom stand (height is not counting the length of the hair, which is included in the stand measurement).

Hand-carved staffs covered in 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 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 communicated for someone else to the king. The imagery of the okyeame's staff was meant to tell a proverb, usually one about power and the responsibilities of the ruler.

A similar gold covered finial was offered at Sotheby's in 2014 for an estimate of $5000-$7000: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/african-oceanic-n09146/lot.367.html

Condition: Cloth has slight fraying at edges. Small nicks from gold leaf commensurate with age.

Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection

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