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The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

Houston philanthropist Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., had a passion for collecting, a fascination with gold art objects, and a desire to share them with the world. Like the cultures that fashioned these treasures, he valued gold not for its intrinsic value but for its spiritual meaning. The extensive collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian gold that he gave the MFAH are a remarkable legacy. Among the highlights are a golden staff created by the Akan peoples of Ghana, a rare burial mask from Java, and jewelry made by the Moché culture of Peru.

Linguist Staff Top Representing a Man Holding a Book
Wood and gold leaf

16 x 4 1/8 x 4 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

This linguist staff top depicts a man pointing to his face and holding a book. The figure is a reference to the saying "If you cannot see, can you also not hear?" It is an instruction to use all of one's faculties in the quest for knowledge.

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.