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Asafo flag, No. 2 Company; created by Akwa Osei, Ghana, Fante people; c. 1900, Cotton and rayon, embroidery and appliqué
Asafo flag, No. 1 Company

Asafo are traditional warrior groups in Akan culture, based on lineal descent.[1] The word derives from sa, meaning war, and fo, meaning people. The traditional role of the Asafo companies was defence of the state. As the result of contact with European colonial powers on the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), the Fante, who inhabit the coastal region, developed an especially complex version of the concept in terms of its social and political organization based on martial principles, and with elaborate traditions of visual art,[2] including flag banners with figurative scenes,[3][4] and designs alluding to historical events or proverbs.[5]

Asafo societies on the Gold Coast[edit]


Posuban of Asafo company No. 4 Wombir in Elmina.
Posuban of Asafo company No. 1 Ankobea.
Flag of Asafo company No. 10 Akrampafo, also known as the Vrijburgers, which is written (white-on-white, so difficult to see) on the white part of the flag.

In Elmina, Asafo companies emerged in the early 18th century out of the wards of Elmina that had existed since at least the 17th century. The omission of a description of Asafo companies in Willem Bosman's Nauwkeurige beschrijving (1703) leads Harvey Feinberg to the conclusion that these companies could not have been very important by that date.[6] This changed in the first quarter of the 18th century, when the original three wards had been complemented by four new wards consisting of new immigrant groups to Elmina.[6]

In 1724, when the Dutch needed the help of the Elminese to oust John Canoe from Fort Groß Friedrichsburg, they organized the wards into rank order, with each ward having a number and an established military formation. It was this occasion that gave rise to the domination of Asafo companies in the socio-political life of Elmina, and of the 10 Asafo companies existing today, seven are mentioned in 1724:[6]

  • No. 1 Ankobea (also Ankobia)
  • No. 2 Akyemfo (also Akim)
  • No. 3 Akyem-Nkodwo (also Encodjo)
  • No. 4 Wombir (previously Assamfoe, Appendjafoe)
  • No. 5 Abese (also Abesi)
  • No. 6 Alatamanfo (also Allade, Adjadie)
  • No. 7 Eyampa

All companies were headed by a tufohen, and each one of them had its own flag.[7][8][9] The Asafo companies were ranked in reverse order of importance. Asafo company No. 7 Eyampa is supposed to be the company of the founder of Elmina, Kwa Amankwaa.[10] This company still elects the King of Elmina, who must either be from the Nsona or Anona royal family.[11] Asafo company No. 3 Akyem-Nkodwo elects the leader of all Asafo companies known as the Great Ensign (Dutch: Groot Vaandrig).[11] This was the case under Dutch influence. However, the commander of all the Asafo companies in Elmina is now known as the Tufuhene. The importance of rank is illustrated by the conflict between No. 5 Abese and No. 6 Alatamanfo in the late 1750s over the number six position.[10] It was only when Governor Jan Pieter Theodoor Huydecoper threatened to fire cannon from Fort Coenraadsburg into Elmina that the conflict was finally settled.[citation needed]

In the 19th century, three Asafo companies were added to the existing seven:[citation needed]

  • No. 8 Brofomba
  • No. 9 Maa wore
  • No. 10 Akrampafo

No. 8 Brofomba consisted of refugees from Eguafo and Simbiw, who fled to Elmina during the Fante War of 1810. No. 9 Maa wore consisted of the descendants of the slaves who had worked for the Dutch West India Company and who were collectively dismissed in the early 19th century. No. 10 Akrampafo consisted of free citizens (Dutch: vrijburgers). This company comprised mulattoes who were considered equals to the European officers, and who often worked in the lower ranks of the Dutch administration. This company elected the burgomaster of Elmina.[11]

Cape Coast[edit]

In Cape Coast (Oguaa traditional area) there are traditionally seven asafo companies: Bentsir, Anaafo, Ntin, Nkum, Brofomba, Akrampa and Amanful. Each company is headed by a superior captain ('Supi') and under the Supi is a captain ('Safohen'). The leader of the asafo companies is the Tufuhen, also spelled Twafohen or Twaafohen[12][13] (master of arms), who is regarded as the General Captain with responsibility for giving orders and directing affairs if war breaks out.[14] The asafo companies feature largely in the Fetu Afahye festival of Cape Coast, held annually on the first Saturday of September.[15]


Each asafo company has designated uniform colours that have been historically established.[16] Esi Sutherland-Addy identifies these in Oguaa as:[17]

  • No. 1. Bentsir – red
  • No. 2. Anafo – blue and white
  • No. 3. Ntsin – green
  • No. 4. Nkum – yellow
  • No. 5. Amanful – wine and black
  • No. 6. Abrofomba (Brofo Nkoa) – white
  • No. 7. Ankrampa – white and black

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DeCorse, Christopher R.; Sam Spiers (2009). "A tale of two polities: socio-political transformation on the Gold Coast in the Atlantic World" (PDF). Australasian Historical Archaeology. 27: 36. S2CID 67755840. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-02-15.
  2. ^ "Asafo Companies". Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  3. ^ Casely-Hayford, Gus (4 February 2016). "Gus Casely-Hayford on Fante Asafo Flags – Artist & Empire". Tate – via YouTube.
  4. ^ "Asafo Flags: Stitches Through Time". Heni Talks. 24 April 2018.
  5. ^ Ong, Jyni, "Asafo flags embody cultural meanings and narratives from Ghana’s Fante people", It's Nice That, 11 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Feinberg 1989, p. 105.
  7. ^ Peter Adler and Nicholas Barnard, Asafo!: African Flags of the Fante, London: Thames & Hudson, 1992.
  8. ^ Yarak 2003.
  9. ^ Van der Meer 1990, Chapter 2: De Afrikanen "onder de forten".
  10. ^ a b Feinberg 1989, p. 106.
  11. ^ a b c T.P. Manus Ulzen (2013). Java Hill: An African Journey: A nation's evolution through ten generations of a family linking four continents. Xlibris Corporation. p. 97. ISBN 9781479791217.
  12. ^ Kwaku Baah-Acheamfour, "Ghana: Heroes Are Better Honoured Alive", AllAfrica, 25 August 2008.
  13. ^ Kobby Asmah and Timothy Gobah, "Be neutral, professional — Political parties urge stakeholders", Graphic Online, 15 September 2016.
  14. ^ Cape Coast metropolitan Assembly.
  15. ^ David Allan Paintsil, "Oguaa to showcase potential of traditional warriors…in 2012 Fetu Afahye" Archived 6 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The Chronicle (Ghana), 11 May 2012.
  16. ^ Herman du Toit (ed.), Pageants and Processions: Images and Idiom as Spectacle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. 118.
  17. ^ Esi Sutherland-Addy, "Women and Verbal Arts in the Oguaa-Edina Area", Research Review (NS), Vol. 14, No. 2 (1998), p. 7.

External links[edit]