Akan Leadership Arts

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Okyeame poma (counselor’s staff), Kokofu, Asante, Ghana, 1980. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

This staff depicts a submissive leopard allowing a lion to drink from a palm pot on his head, while an antelope looks on. It represents the saying: “Only the lion drinks from the palm wine pot of the leopard.” This argument for the dominance of the lion over the leopard is curious, since the savanna dwelling lion was generally absent from the forested Akan areas, where the leopard was indigenous. The leopard was clearly the most prominent of the two great cats in the earliest examples of Akan expressive culture—goldweights and kuduo. During the second half of the 19th century, lion images introduced by the colonial powers, especially Great Britain, began to supercede the leopard, and by the 20th century the lion occurred two or three times more frequently than the leopard on a wide variety of art forms (See Ross 1982b).