A chief's linguist sits at the top of the hierarchy of non-royal court officials.
Known as okyeame, the court linguist is employed as the primary royal spokesperson and is a highly regarded advisor in an Akan palace.
A chief will usually have more than one okyeame. Any number up to six is common, depending on the size of the state. Employing a greater number of linguists is seen as a sign of stature. Famously, the king of Asante employed twelve.
The responsibilities of okyeame are wide-ranging, covering everything from mediation, judicial advocacy, and political troubleshooting to preserving and interpreting royal history.
They also often act as an intermediary between the king and those who wish to communicate with him.
Identifying the court linguist is his distinctive staff. Each linguist carries their own, with many containing motifs designed to deliver messages to the king's people. "Akan akyem poma embody information about ethical and moral values and are used as an unspoken form of communication at public gatherings and in government."2 Coded communication aside, the linguist's staff — known as an okyeame poma (akyeampoma in some sources) — serves no practical purpose.
They are simply ceremonial, used to announce the arrival of the chief's principal counsellor. They may also set the tone for a meeting or announcement. If an okyeame poma is present, you are set for serious business.
Today, linguist's staffs are still used by many institutions, most notably by the voluntary associations of masons, fishermen, and musicians.