Akan Leadership Arts

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Okyeame poma (counselor’s staff), Abeadze Dominase, Fante, Ghana, 1975. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

This staff is among the more enigmatic in the very large corpus of staff motifs. It depicts a bird with a bone in its beak perched on a tree with a dog sitting below. It represents the saying, “The owner of a thing collects it with his lefthand.” The Akan consider the lefthand unclean. It is never used in gesturing or eating or put in physical contact with another person. Even in the Western world, the left isconsidered sinister while the right is dexterous (from the Latin sinister and dexter). Nevertheless, among the Akan, property rights seem to take precedence over good manners. The bone, of course, belongs to the dog rather than the bird, and the insult of retrieving it with the left isapparently less offensive in difficult situations of recovering goods left behind, loaned, or stolen.