This colorful flag (frankaa) is a wonderful example of one of the most exciting areas of Fante art. It is the emblem of a Fante Asafo company. One of the most influential of all Akan institutions, Asafo is a military organization that may have existed in some form as early as the late 1400s. Asafo companies play an important role in the political process by balancing the power of paramount chiefs. Asafo members also take part in ceremonies when a new chief is installed.
Asafo is most highly developed among the Fante. A Fante town may have from 2 to 14 companies. Each company has its own name, number, regalia and shrine. A company is led by a senior commander, captains of subdivisions and various other officials, including linguists, flag bearers, priests and priestesses. This flag belonged to an Asafo company in Mankesim, capital of Fanteland.
The flag is made from commercially produced trade cloth with a fleur-de-lis background design. Its appliqué figures were copied from paper patterns; each figure is two-sided. The British Union Jack in the upper left indicates that the flag was made before Ghanaian independence in 1957. Asafo flags after this date display the Ghanaian flag.
The crocodile represents the Asafo company that owned the flag. The round pond may evoke water deities associated with ponds, streams and rivers for whom the Asafo company acts as protector. An alternative interpretation focuses on the fish in the pond. They may represent rival companies and allude to the Fante proverb "Fish grow fat for the benefit of the crocodile." The meaning of the birds is unknown.
Asafo flag composed of a rectangular red cotton damask cloth (fleur-de-lis pattern) with an inset miniature Union Jack flag in the upper left corner. The applique proverb-image depicts a black crocodile approaching five fish contained within a black circle and four blue fowls surrounding the latter. This scene is repeated on the reverse side. The fringed border is composed of alternating black and white triangles and black and tan rectangles.
Damon Brandt, New York, 1988
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
Elmina: Art and Trade on the West African Coast, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 10, 1992-May 2, 1993
Geary, Christraud M. and Andrea Nicolls. 1992. Elmina: Art and Trade on the West African Coast. Exhibition booklet. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, front cover.
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