The Fante (often spelt Fanti) people live along the coast of Ghana to the west of Accra in fishing villages such as Anomabu, Saltpond, Mankessim, and Elmina, and in the town of Cape Coast. Elmina was the site of the first major European settlement in West Africa with the construction of St.George's Castle by the Portuguese in 1492. Over the centuries that followed the region was a centre for slave trading and the Fante became key intermediaries between the slavers and the peoples of the interior such as the Asante. Asafo "companies" developed as military organisations of young men in the Fante villages, adopting flags and other European-inspired regalia which they gradually modified for local use. As well as defending the village against local enemies and incursions by the Asante, the two or more companies in each community developed intense local rivalries, which were acted out during festivals and other ceremonial occasions. The active fighting role of the Asafo companies ended with the British colonial takeover late in the nineteenth century, but they remain key associations in the ritual life of Fante villages.
|Posuban shrine of Asafo No.2 company in the village of Kromantse|
Each company has a central shrine, called a posuban, which is generally an elaborate concrete structure decorated brightly colored figures, and which serves as a store for regalia and a focus for sacrifices. Flags, called frankaa, are a key item of Asafo regalia. Each man who wishes to join the society commissions a new flag from the local flag maker, usually giving him instructions as to the design. The imagery on the flags asserts the wealth and prowess of the company and explicitly challenges rival groups. Often the design alludes to proverbs, reflecting the importance of proverbs throughout Akan culture. At annual festivals, funerals for company members and other occasions flags are hung around the shrine and paraded through the village. Although the exact origins of Asafo flags are unclear, there are reports of their use dating back at least to the early 18th C. Flags made before Ghanaian independence in 1957 have a version the British Union Jack flag in the corner, after that date some incorporate the Ghana flag instead. Flags are still being made and used as an important part of communal life in Fante villages today. Since the 1990s their direct and striking imagery has also made them highly collectable outside Ghana.
|Asafo flag Circa 1930s.|
Adler,P. & Barnard,N. (1992) Asafo ! African Flags of the Fante - illustrates a great collection.
Carmignani, F. Asafo (2010)
Güse, E-G. (1995) Asafo, Fahnen aus Ghana - German exhibition catalogue, nicely presented collection with a few spectacular pieces.
Heymer,K. (1993) Tanzende Bilder - another German catalogue, shows many of the same flags, but different text and some interesting old photos.
Labi, K.A. "Fante Asafo Flags of Abandze and Kormantse" in African Arts XXXV (4) 2002
Ross,D. (1979) Fighting With Art - this is source of most subsequent books and articles.
Ross,D. (2010) "True Colours, Faux Flags and Tattered Sales" in African Arts 43(2) - discusses the trade in fake flags.
|Click on the image to go to our gallery of Asafo flags for sale.|