Asafo Frankaa (Flag)

By: Duncan Clarke Tagged:


The Fante, a subgroup of the culturally and linguistically related Akan peoples living along the coast of the Central region of Ghana have a distinctive tradition of appliqué and embroidered flags called mfrankaa (sing. frankaa), that are among the primary art forms belonging to military and social groups called Asafo (sa = war, fo = people.) While the basic form of these flags derives from naval ensigns and other ship’s flags seen locally during over five centuries of interaction with European maritime traders, soldiers, missionaries and colonial officials, the design, meaning and use is deeply embedded in Fante cultural norms.

Each Fante village and town, depending on its size has between two and ten Asafo groups, known as companies, each with a set of officials, a company shrine called a posuban, and a collection of flags that may number as many as a hundred or more. Asafo companies parade and dance with these flags during annual festivals, funerals for company members, and other suitable occasions. Imagery on the flags typically either commemorates an important event in the history of the group or, as here, depicts a proverb or saying that generally promotes the strength of the company and belittles or provokes a rival group.

On this mid 20th century flag a warrior from the No 1 company of an unidentified town confronts a defeated rival who is ensnared in a man trap. Based on research by Doran Ross and Silvia Forni (2017. 157,) we can identify the artist of this flag as Baba Issah (1916-1991) of the Petubaw- Asebu workshop and the theme as a reflection on the indiscriminate danger posed by traps 'the trap does not know its owner' and by extension the danger posed by the No 1 Company.

Distinguishing Features

  • Usually rectangular
  • Average size of about 37 inches x 167 inches
  • Almost all have a solid coloured ground made from imported industrially woven cloth
  • Appliquéd design enhanced by embroidered details
  • Few embroidered or painted designs are known
  • Flags are usually two sided with an identical design
    • Any lettering reversed on the back face
  • Most have a distinct border
    • Usually made up of rectangles or triangles of cloth in contrasting colours
    • Fringe of partially cut pieces of white cloth
  • The corner flag (canton) is generally a version of the British 'Union Jack'
    • Flags made after 1957 may have the Ghanaian flag instead
    • NOTE: In itself the presence of the Union Jack does not provide a reliable means of dating a flag

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