Flag | Frankaa

Appliquéd Battalion Flag Asafo: Lion with crown, griffin-like bird and sasabonsam, 1930 - 1985

About the object

Lions are not found in the land of the Fante people. The crowned lion is a popular European heraldic animal, which populated the flags of war ships and trade vessels that had cast anchor on the Gold Coast from an early stage. The lion depicted here is a metaphor for British dominion over the Gold Coast. The bird’s talons recall depictions of the griffin in European heraldry. This dragon/eagle hybrid creature symbolises vigilance, speed and, above all, invincibility. The entity – half-human half-animal ­– that the griffin seems to be attacking, is a forest or bush spirit, a Sasabonsam, who spreads fear and terror among humans. Author: Doris Kubisch
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Asafo is usually translated as "soldiers" or "army", but the word also encompasses military power per se. The Fante people refer to the individual company as atsikuw or atsikuw, but the English word "company" is more common. Asafo companies are military organisations that still exist today in the small, traditional Fante states alongside Ghana's national army. Asafo companies can be traced back to the 16th century in the journals of European travellers, traders and soldiers. Whether and in what form the warrior organisations existed at an earlier date is not known - there are no written or oral records. Crucial to their present form and structure was the influence exerted on them by Europeans from the 17th century onwards. They developed many of the features that still characterise Aasafo companies today: European technologies were adopted as well as military pomp, e.g. roll calls to salute the colours, gun salutes and colourful uniforms. The Europeans used their superiority and the disputes between the companies to form efficient units out of the Asafo warriors of the Fante people, which they could use for their own ends and against enemies in the interior in the event of war. Following the European model, a system developed with many formal and informal offices and dignitaries within a company. Despite many shared features, the organisation and structure of the Asafo companies were characterised by regional differences and their dealings with each other were marked by rivalry and conflict. The companies distinguished themselves from one another by emphasising different emblems, colours and symbols. However, in the event of war against an external enemy, the individual companies banded together as one army. Membership of an Asafo company is inherited from one's father. Every child belongs to its father's Asafo company from birth. This is in contrast to the other social institutions of the Fante, such as the matrilineal organisation of the clan. The companies provide thus a stable counterweight here. Above all, it is the very way they are composed that renders the Asafo company an important democratic element in politics and society. Whether a fisherman or son of the village chieftain, everyone is a member. The leaders are elected and do not inherit their positions. Dangerous battles between Asafo companies or defensive wars against an external enemy no longer exist. The Asafo companies have largely lost their military character. Especially in the cities, they are more like clubs with social and political objectives. They provide a meeting place for young people, have a say in traditional political committees, help with community projects and go on parade at festivities. Today, the important role of the flag finds expression in the spectacular flag dances that re-enact dangerous battle scenes and victorious skirmishes. Today, the Asafo companies are particularly active in various Fante festivals. During the Akwambo festival, the Asafo companies guard the paths and routes to the main shrines, which are located outside the city. Priests and priestesses then perform rituals for the gods worshipped there. The rest of the day is spent with colourful performances, parodies, processions in colourful, imaginative uniforms and exuberant flag dances. The central squares are crowded with spectators and participants in the Asafo extravaganza. Author: Doris Kubisch, Translation: Timothy Connell

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