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3078Re: [African_Arts] More than Walking sticks?

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  • GARYGLS2000@aol.com
    Apr 1, 2008
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      The discussion about "walking sticks" brought back an experience I had with a "runner" in 1992. I received a call saying this fellow had just come from Liberia and had some "African art" he wanted to sell. I visited him at his hotel room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and examined the "pieces" he had come with. Everything was either poorly carved or made for the tourist trade. As I was about to leave, he said "Wait, one more thing." He went over to the corner of the room and began unwrapping a long object covered with wrapping paper and tape. Having lived in Sierra Leone for a few years, I immediately recognized what he was showing me - an authentic turn-of-the-century Paramount Chief's staff of office with the original brass crown bearing the Coat of Arms of Great Britain. There were 41 of these, manufactured in England,  and presented in 1897 by Queen Victoria to the Paramount Chiefs when the British Protectorate was established over the hinterland. This one was engraved, "Sierra Leone, 18." I asked him what it was. "Its a chief's walking stick", he said. "Where did you get it?" "I bought it from the chief's family", he said. No way! These staffs belong to the Chiefdom and when a Paramount Chief dies, it passes on to his or her (yes, there are female Paramount Chiefs) successor. Not wanting to see it disappear into circulation, I bought it from him for $ 300.
      I went back to Sierra Leone in 1994 with the intention of returning the staff to whatever Chiefdom it came from. I brought pictures of the stafff with me. I met with the 27 year-old Vice Chairman of the Sierra Leone Government (one of the junior officers who staged a coup in 1962) who recognized what it was and sent me to meet with the head of the Chiefdom Affairs Department but no one could identify Staff Number 18. One of the Freetown newspapers ran a story asking people to come forward with information about its origin but to no avail. Later  I checked with the Commonwealth Office in London. They had no lists of these staffs.
      Since then I learned there are two possible explanations for the emergence of the staff. The more innocent explanation is that some chiedoms were amalgamated in the 1940's and their staffs became redundant. Thus the explanation that the chief's family sold it could be true. On the other hand, a few Paramount Chief's, especially in the south-eastern part of Sierra Leone, were murdered by the rebels and their staffs were stolen and sold off to Madingoe traders. The truth wil probably never be know.
      The "Chief's walking stick" still resides in my apartment awaiting return to its rightful owners.

      -----Original Message-----
      From: doc47 <davidzl_2000@...>
      To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Sat, 29 Mar 2008 6:53 pm
      Subject: [African_Arts] More than Walking sticks?

      Interesting discussion on Gullah culture. Thanks. In terms of survival
      of carving wouldn't voodoo dolls be a survival? Are there examples
      from the US?

      Now, to my subject:
      While I was in West Africa I noticed many homes where the men owned
      walking sticks or canes. Some were carved, others plain. In one man's
      house there were probably a dozen or so, all showing evidence of age
      and use. I asked about them and the gentleman indicated that some were
      walking sticks but hinted that others were more than that; that they
      held some sort of power.

      Can anyone enlighten me on this?

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