Akan Leadership Arts

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Akyeame (sing. okyeame; counselors), Essumeja, AsanteGhana, 1979. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

The okyeame is typically identified as a “linguist” in the literature, because he serves as the spokesman for the chief. The Asante say he makes the chief’s words “sweet.” Yet, he is much more than that and indeed serves as the principal advisor to the chief in political, judicial, and economic matters. As such, okyeame is better translated as “counselor.” A paramount chief may have several akyeame with one identified as the chief counselor. Their sole badge of authority is a carved and gold-leafed wood staff with a two-piece shaft and a figurated finial. The latter generally represents a proverb dealing with themes relating to political hierarchy, responsibilities of the chief, and appropriate behavior of the chief and his subjects. (See Ross 1982a for a more detailed discussion.)