Akan Leadership Arts

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Mpetea (finger rings) of Nana Diko Pim III, Ejisu, Ghana, 1976. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

On his middle fingers the Ejisuhene is wearing a ring with a frog motif and a ring with a porcupine. The vast majority of representational motifs in Akan art are based on the sophisticated body of oral literature that enlivens both their daily speech and their formal oratory. Folktales, proverbs, riddles, jokes, boasts, and insults may all at one time or another be capsulized in a work of art. This verbal/visual nexus of Akan art is one of the key principles in interpreting the meaning of a given work (Cole and Ross 1977: 9-12). For example, the frog would at first appear to be an unlikely chiefly symbol, but the maxim conventionally associated with this image is, “A frog's length is only apparent after death,” asserting that the achievements of a chief are not always recognized during his lifetime. (The importance of the porcupine is discussed on page fourteen of this essay; see also Ross 1986a.)