By Nii B. Andrews.
Asafo companies were an indigenous militia that could be mobilized both for war and in peace time; they were an instrument of community resilience and cohesion.
Incontrovertible proof that they arose out of European influence does not exist.
Asafo companies are found among the Fante, Ga and Akwamu. The flags of Asafo companies are loaded with symbolism and meaning leading sometimes to rumors aka AKIKAKIKA.
The institution has also been appropriated by the Church as exemplified by the Ga hymn translated thus:
“Under which flag are you?
to which Asafo group do you belong?
Do you belong to Christ’s Asafo,
or are you a child of Satan?”
Herewith, it is obvious that the identity of the Asafo is synonymous with and totally inseparable from its flag.
Philip Laryea – the theologian, states emphatically that the insignia on an Asafo flag “is an antechamber that opens into a wider world, it cannot be said to be an antechamber of nothingness”.
Thus, the Asafo flag Laryea posits, “is a sacrament that brings two worlds together – the spirit world of the living-dead and the mundane world of the living”.
Therefore, to be appointed a bearer of the Asafo flag is prestigious; it is a religious function restricted to only those who have been prepared and fortified by appropriate rites.
When an Asafo flag bearer is in full regalia (including body decoration of his bare upper torso) and dances with the flag, with agile grace and athleticism to the syncopated beat of the drums: it is absolutely breathtaking; it is sublime; it provides a powerful and unique adjunct to indigenous statecraft.
Since the flag’s insignia serves to communicate profound philosophical and religious ideas, the flag bearer gets possessed as he comes under the influence of the spirit world.
The Ghanaian artist, Patrick Tagoe -Turkson has chosen to utilise the Asafo flag in communicating sober traditional ideas and truths to a post-truth world where far too often bigotry, greed, fake news and sleight of hand are the order of the day.
A decade ago, he demonstrated his expertise and deep knowledge of Effutu Asafo flag art as documented in his book, “Asafo Flags With a Difference: Painting with Effutu Asafo Flag Art Concepts” which was published in 2012.
In the current solo exhibition, Tagoe – Turkson utilises a visual language that illustrates proverbs and maxims from traditional Ghanaian culture, many of which are sadly now lost to a younger generation.
Tagoe-Turkson employs modern materials such as polyester; he uses vibrant colors and images reminiscent of those used in pop art and digital art.
My favourite is the schematic emoji like, ONYAME EHU with its terse warning about catching crabs!
Furthermore, his use of cutout pieces of discarded fabrics that are hand sewn onto a broad background fabric with finished and unfinished or turned edges and his reverse applique needlework technique references an alchemic process of composing, recomposing and repetitive hand-stitching of different pieces.
Hardly any dross is evident in the finished pieces. The result is a “charged” or if you like “potent” flag arising primarily from a deliberate meditative or contemplative process.
The culminative effect serves to attract the attention of a contemporary audience while also giving the flags an interest akin to that of up to date advertising or branding.
This is particularly clever as the traditional Asafo flags also accommodated the exigencies of public relations and the political zeitgeist in earlier societies.
We all recognize that a call to rally round any relevant flag – if profound and sincere, hardly ever falls on deaf ears.
The coded or veiled aphorisms on Tagoe-Turkson’s updated flags provide more than enough substrate for thought, action and rumor – AKIKAKIKA.
Perhaps at this time in our nation when much needs to be er….FIXED, it will be helpful for us to recall the Asafo spirit and raise an Asafo flag yet again.
*********All images are by courtesy of the artist Patrick Tagoe-Turkson.
You can view the online exhibition titled AKIKAKIKA: APHORISM IN CONTEMPORARY ASAFO FLAG ART here.