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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
 
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AKAN
Ghana
Linguist Staff and Top Representing an Elephant
19th-20th century
Wood and gold leaf

7 3/8 x 2 7/8 x 7 3/8 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Africa
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold
 
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This linguist staff is decorated with human ears and a top depicting an elephant. It represents the proverb "The ears of the chief are as big as those of an elephant," meaning that the chief hears all.

Linguists, called akyeame, are important royal advisers. A linguist speaks for the chief and relays the words of those who wish to speak to the chief. Depending on the size of a state, a chief usually has two to six linguists to counsel and represent him. Linguists are eloquent speakers knowledgeable about history, customs, and the law. Their positions are usually inherited through their mothers, although a chief may appoint a linguist.

The golden staffs carried by linguists feature carved figurative tops that relate the rich proverbs of the Akan peoples. These proverbs tell of the power of the chief, his right to rule, his responsibilities to his people, and how the people, in turn, should behave toward the chief, the state, and each other.