An okyeame is a counselor, spokesman, or linguist serving a chief or Asantehene (king). They are the leader’s primary orators, diplomats, protocol officers, prosecutors, and prayer officiants. They must have a masterful command of Asante traditions, history, and public relations. Among royal attendants, linguists are visually distinguished by their tall wooden staffs decorated with gold.
Linguist staffs are composed of three sections: two shafts and a sculptural finial. Unlike monarchical or national insignia, linguist staff finials use a variety of subjects to convey messages about the responsibilities of leaders and their subjects. The top shaft of some staffs is carved in the form of a “wisdom knot,” representing the proverb “Only a wise man can untie a wisdom knot.” This recurring motif implies a ruler must be a problem solver. Asante rulers own several linguist staffs in order to display the one that best visualizes the message he wishes to convey on a particular occasion.
- Roslyn Walker, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, Label text, 2018.