Mae Sander has passed on this fascinating story from the joint website of the Ghana Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Ghana. According to the story (attributed to Prof. Ablade Glover of the College of Arts of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi), every Ghanaian chief
has a linguist. He goes on errands to convey his master's ideas, or appears in public with him.
It is the linguist who puts the chief's whispers into poetic and eloquent language. He is not only a mo[u]th-piece as he is wrongly described today but rather [an] ambassador and a very useful and prominent courtier. Indeed a chief's fame, to a great exten[t], depends upon the wisdom and eloquence of his linguist.
The symbol he carries is the symbol (usually proverbial) of the state he represents. Some depict animal or human forms while others depict just simple abstract shapes. Whatever stands on that staff or stick represents the beliefs and aspirations of the entire state. The staff itself is made of wood wrapped with either silver or gold leaf, or sometimes of solid gold or silver.
When the linguist is about to pronounce judgement he transfers the stick from his right hand for gesticulation. A linguist represents the link between the chief and his people, and the staff is his symbol of authority.
A number of these symbols are illustrated on the site, most of them with accompanying proverbs. For instance, a tsetsefly on a tortoise: "the tsetsefly follows the tortoise in vain" ("unprofitable and therefore useless venture trying to steal from a fortress").
I'm trying to imagine how this might work in the U.S. political system, with senators, representatives, governors, cabinet members, and the like in the role of chiefs. And what symbols to use?