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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Fante (Ghana)
Title: Asafo flag (frankaa)
Date: mid-20th century
Medium: Appliqued cotton cloth
Dimensions: Approx.: 27 x 55 inches (68.6 x 139.7 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Amyas Naegele, Class of 1978
Object Number: 2003.069.003
This flag was made in Ghana, in West Africa.

New Asafo officers commission a specialist to make them a flag, which then becomes the property of the Asafo company. This flag has been made with appliquéd designs, although flags can also be embroidered or painted.

Small military units, called Asafo companies, have existed in Ghana for at least three centuries. The Asafo no longer serve a military function, but these essentially egalitarian organizations balance the aristocratic emphasis of Fante and Asante states. They also do not have exclusively male membership; both men and women along the same patrilineal lines join a single Asafo company. Under the British, and now in independent Ghana today, these social organizations do not fight with arms, but with art. Upon joining a company, the new member must present his or her company with a flag, made with appropriate colors and insignia.

Asafo flags may be flown from special shrine buildings called posuban. A flag may also be carried by a trained performer who has white pigment painted on his chest, arms and legs and wears a short raffia skirt, amulets, and beads. These spiritually enhanced performers reenact past battles to the accompaniment of drums, gongs, and songs.

Living along the coast of Ghana, the former Gold Coast, Fante peoples have been in contact with Europeans since the fifteenth century. This exposure to European, and particularly British, materials and visual culture has resulted in frequent borrowings. Fante Asafo military companies made flags of a European form, but used the flags to express Akan proverbs and ideas. The Union Jack prominently featured in this flag dates the object prior to 1957 when Ghana achieved independence from the British. Many companies have sold these older flags in order to replace them with others containing the Ghanaian tricolor.

The hen and chicks depicted on this flag refers to the Akan proverb: “The hen may step on its chicks, but it does so to protect them, not to harm them.” In other words, the difficulties individuals may experience under Asafo company leadership or from the chief himself will make the members stronger.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.