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Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan
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Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan

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Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan

Asafo-A Political-Military Institution of the Akan

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  • 1. RBG Blakademics RBG Communiversity July, 2012 “What Does Asafo Mean?”The asafo is a political-military institution of the Akan. Even though its social andpolitical functions have been well documented, the expressive and aesthetic cultureof the Asafo institution has received limited scholarly attention (de Graft Johnson,1932; Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, 1940; Datta and Porter, 1971; and Sutherland-Addy, 1998). Sutherland-Addy (1998, p. 90), for example, suggests that "therhetoric, libations, historical songs and chants, praise-poetry, legends and dramatexts may now be examined with a view to demonstrating how they provide thetexture, context, impact and value of historical fact" that mark the asafo institution.Even though the Akan societies, had no standing army, the asafo - i.e., a peoplesmilitia - was a well established social and political organization based on martialprinciples. Every able-bodied person belonged to an asafo group; every childautomatically belonged to his or her fathers company.Internal sub-divisions within an individual company included the main fightingbody, the scouts, reserves, and the minstrel unit whose main job it was to singpatriotic and war songs to boost the morale of the military. 1
  • 2. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 Asafotufiam ProcessionThe video below represents the annual festival celebrated by the people of Adacommemorates the victories of the Ada warriors and honours those who diedduring battle. The historic events are re-enacted with ritual battles between men incolorful fighting gear.ASAFO MEMBERS The asafo companies forming the national army were organized into main fighting divisions thus: adonten (vanguard - main body under the adontenhene), twafo (advance guard), kyidom (rearguard - under the kyidomhene), nifa (right wing under the nifahene), benkum (left wing under the benkumhene), akwansra (scouting division), ankobea (home guard under the ankobeahene), and gyaase (the kings bodyguard under the gyaasehene). 2
  • 3. RBG Blakademics July, 2012ASAFO MEMBERS IN THEIR COLORFUL COMPANY OUTFIT Asafo companies were also differentiated by the different colors of headgear and hairstyles worn by members, exclusive drums, horns and other musical instruments, appellations, and emblems. Other units within the main divisions included afonasoafoo (the carriers of spears and shields), sumankwaafoo (the herbalists and medicine men), and the asokwafo (heralds). Asafo companies existed in all the Akan states.In Asante, the national asafo was commanded by the Asantehene, but two generals,the kurontire and akwamu, were the military leaders. The Fantse went a stepfurther by incorporating some European customs in their Asafo companies.The typical Asafo company in a Fantse township, according to Aggrey (1978), washeaded by the Tufohene, the military advisor to the chief of the township. Next inline is the Asafobaatan. Supi was the commanding officer, while the divisionalcaptain within a company was called the Safohene (for the male) or Asafoakyere(for the female). Other ranks in the Asafo were the Asafokomfo (the priest),okyerema - head of the akyeremafo (the drummers), frankaakitani (flag bearer),sekanboni (sword maker), okyeame (spokesperson or linguist), and abrafoo (policeofficers) and adumfoo (executioners). Abrafoo - Executioners 3
  • 4. RBG Blakademics July, 2012Asafo CompaniesSource: http://www.twi.bb/akan-asafo.phpThe word `asafo is derived from sa (meaning war) and fo (meaning people). Warrior groupsare active throughout the Akan area, but it is the Fante tribe which inhabit the coastal region ofGhana, that has developed a sophisticated and expressive community with a social and politicalorganization based on martial principles, and elaborate traditions of visual art.It is certain that the local organization of warriors into units of fighting men was an establishedpractice well before the arrival of Europeans. Nevertheless, the influence on - and themanipulation of - these groups to suit the trading and colonial ambitions of the foreigners hascreated many of the qualities of the Fante Asafo that continue to this day.The situation throughout the Fante region is fraught with political complexities, for there aretwenty-four traditional states along an eighty- mile stretch of the Atlantic coast, and each state isindependently ruled by a paramount chief or omanhen, supported by elders and a hierarchy ofdivisional, town and village chiefs. In any one state there may be from two to fourteen Asafocompanies, with as many as seven active companies in a single town. There is a lack of politicalunity within the Fante culture as a whole, so that inter-company rivalries - as well asdisagreements between the states - are, not surprisingly, endemic. When the Fante were notfighting together against a common enemy, these antagonisms often extended to open conflictamong themselves. observers report that battles between Asafo companies in the eighteenth andnineteenth centuries left many dead and wounded.By exploiting these divisions, the Europeans could `divide and rule and ensure that their controlof the coast went unchallenged. At the same time, by organizing the Asafo warriors into efficientmilitary units, they could bring together an army for a quick reaction to any threat from theinterior. The enemy was, more often than not, the powerful Ashanti kingdom, a traditionalopponent of the Fante, and a dangerous and unpredictable supplier of gold and slaves to theEuropean traders on the coast. The primary function of the Asafo, as we have seen, was defenceof the state, Nevertheless, the companies are key players in a balance-of- power struggle - typicalof the many that exist in communities the world over - between the military and civilian groupswithin government. Although the Asafo are subordinate to their chiefs and paramount chief, theyare intimately involved in the selection of the chief and are responsible for his crowning orenstoolment. As long as the chief has the support of the people - as represented by the Asafo - 4
  • 5. RBG Blakademics July, 2012he has the authority accorded to him by tradition; the prerogative to appoint and remove chiefsremains with the people. Asafo elders also serve as advisers to the chief.While Fante chieftaincy is aristocratic and matrilineal - the chief tracing his descent throughfemales back to the founders of the community - the Asafo are patrilineal and democratic, Everychild, male or female, automatically enters his fathers company, and membership is open to allclasses, from stool holders to fishermen.The Use of Flags in the Asafos The installation of a new Asafo captain is the principalmotivation for the creation of a flag. It is the responsibility of the incumbent to commission andpay for the ensign, which then becomes the collective property of his company. The choice ofdesign is his, albeit partly limited to mimicking the examples established by precedent to be theartistic property of the company. The personalizing of flags in memory of the commissioningofficer is now a common occurrence.The display of Asafo flags is associated with the social activities of the company and the town asa whole. For the town the major event of the year is the Akwambo (path-clearing) festival. Thisis a time of unity, of renewing allegiances and friendships and of the homecoming of familymembers especially for the celebrations. Paths are cleared to shrines of the gods, often by theriver, and as this is a large-scale event it is the time of the presentation of new Asafo leaders,such as supi or asafohen. Bearing their flags, the Asafo companies parade through the streets, tothe river, to the town shrines and past the houses of the chiefs to demonstrate their allegiances.At these festivals the companies of a town proudly and aggressively defend the right to paradespecific and exclusive colours, cloth patterns, emblems and motifs on their art forms. Theviolation by mimickry of a companys artistic property, established by precedent and since 1859by local law, is seen as an act of open aggression. The flags are also shown at other Asafo events,including the funeral of a company member and the commissioning of a new or remodelledshrine, or on an important anniversary of its original construction. Town, regional and nationalevents, such as the enstoolment of chiefs, the annual Yam Festival and state holidays, are allcelebrated with a show of Asafo flags.At these social events the flags are displayed in a variety of ways. The flagpoles of the posubans,the shrines of each company, proudly carry the flags aloft and the houses of Asafo membersadjacent to the shrine, as well as the shrine itself, are decked with strings of colourful colonialand Ghanaian ensigns, Flags are carried in processions and, most dynamically, there is aspectacular display of elaborate dancing with the flag by specially trained Asafo officers, thefrankakitsanyi." 5
  • 6. RBG Blakademics July, 2012In 1853, Cruickshank noted that each company has a distinctive flag; for a company member,the honour of his flag is the first consideration. He also comments that some flags arespecifically designed as challenges or insults to rival companies.These visual insults and provocations often resulted in fatal inter-company clashes. An image ofone company catching their enemies in a dragnet brandished by one company at a festival in July1991 nearly caused a riot! Earlier incidents such as these led to the strict control of flag imagery.At Cape Coast, beginning in the 1860s, all companies were ordered to submit their flags to theColonial Governor for his approval and to register the approved designs and colours with hissecretary. The display of unregistered flags was punishable by law. Even today a new flag mustbe approved by the paramount chief, the general of the combined companies. and the Asafoelders, then paraded before all the other companies in the area to make sure that no one isoffended.Below are several examples of asafo flags. Many Asafo flags included an image of the Britishflag (or variations of it) in one corner until 1957 when Ghana became an independent country.After independence, the image of the Ghana flag replaced the Union Jack on the asafo flags.Asafo flags are important historical items, especially because they vividly capture the influenceof the European presence on coastal West African societies such as those of the Fante.Flag Description A man holding up the world is a company boast of unlimited power and strength. No one can defeat us except God. 6
  • 7. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 The lion and the leopard are depicted as playing draughts. The draughtboard was used as a visual metaphor to challenge rival companies. We control the cock and the clock-bird. We control time and decide when things are to be done - both birds announce the dawn with their cries. The crab is feared for its claws. The crab is seen as a fearless warrior . 7
  • 8. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 If you kill a thousand, a thousand will come. This image depicts a man being bombarded with porcupine quills. The porcupine was a symbol of invincibility. There are two possible interpretations to this flag: one salutes the bravery of the Asafo company, the other derides the foolishness of the companys rival. In the first instance, the owners of the flag identify with the human figures, in the second with the leopard. Early flags showed no borders at all and fringes were not present. This is a more modern flag, which includes a striking border and a fringe. The company captures its enemies. 8
  • 9. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 The company enslaves its enemies. The original Asafo shrine was a tree with a cane fence around it and a medicine mound. The female guardian spirit of this sacred tree was depicted in several flags. If you shoot at a leopard and do not kill it, it is better not to have shot at all. 9
  • 10. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 When the cat is dead, the mice rejoice. Or, the mice are even afraid of a dead cat. Like the (Brebia) vine, we can conquer any problem. The company mocks its rivals as mere vultures. The monkey leaps only as far as it can reach. 10
  • 11. RBG Blakademics July, 2012 You say you are a man, but I have weighed your load and you are weak.Related:Asafo Asafo is an in-depth Afrikan centered discussion of the requirements of Afrikan manhood. In it, the author clearly lays out our sources of power and the tools that must be acquired, mastered and used if we are to reclaim our correct role as warrior scholars in the battle to provide safe, sacred and empowering spaces for our families and communities. It gives specific consciousness raising guidelines for our nationbuilding effort, weeding out those compromising ideas and forces which have kept us confused over whether we want to be powerful or just influential in this world. This book is a very important tool in Afrikan men’s efforts to help ReAfrikanize our people. As the table of contents indicate, there is a strong emphasis on building functional educational institutions, developing a dynamic sense of group-consciousness through elevating one’s self-consciousness, male rites of passage programs and a warrior’s mental preparation. In addition, we are taken through the difficult process of growing from being merely other- directed, apathetic individual consumers to powerful, mission-directed men in thought, word and deed. Asafo closes with an extensive collection of revolutionary quotes that specifically work to define, direct and heal every Afrikan man’s warrior scholar spirit.http://www.akobenhouse.com/asafo.htm 11

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