Fante Asafo Flag “To Thine Animals Be True” (c.1940)
THE FANTE PEOPLES
Cotton with sewn applique, on a black ground with striped border, two gesturing figures stand above a cat and kennelled dog; Union Jack in the top left corner
In handmade oak frame
Asafo flags are a striking and unique mix of traditional West African artistic techniques with European heraldry.
Beginning around the 17th century, the Fante peoples who inhabited the south-west coast of modern-day Ghana formed social and military groups known as Asafo (deriving from sa, meaning war, and fo, meaning people). Each group developed elaborate traditions of visual art, most striking of all were the flags shown here. They were comprised of bold imagery appliqued onto a cotton background, commonly depicting indigenous proverbs which relate closely to the commissioning Asafo group. The motifs they depict are varied; some aim to intimidate, some are humorous, whilst others have an undeniably surreal quality – all speak to a rich culture of local folk traditions.
The influence of European heraldry is also clear, in the 19th and early 20thcentury, many groups incorporated versions of the Union Jack into the flag to enhance the power of the imagery (as seen on the present examples). Asafo societies remain a key part of Fante culture into the modern day, flags are paraded at traditional festivals, celebrations and funerals – with the Ghanian flag replacing the Union Jack since the country’s independence in 1957.