AKIKAKIKA: RAISING THE ASAFO FLAG IN A NEW AGE.

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.

ADZISUAZI, 2003 Polished cotton, acrylic paint, cotton yarns, stranded cotton, 328cm x 214cm. ko aba, nanso okore a oamba biom. [He promised to return but he never did. Rules keep you safe.]

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.

KWADWEFO NDA, 2021, Polyester, polished cotton, cotton yarns, stranded cotton, 168cmx194cm. Dε mbrε abow dan noho no demara na Kwadwefo da nempa do. [As the door turns on its hinges, so is a lazy man upon his bed. Idleness is the enemy of productivity.]

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.

ONYAME EHU, 2021,Polished cotton, cotton thread, 178cmx145cm. Erekyir ɔkɔtɔ no na Onyame rehwε wo tu. [While you catch the crab God is watching your bum; No secret is concealed.]

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.

ADZIHU, 2021,Polished cotton, cotton thread, stranded cotton,188cmx170cm. Sε etwi bodom a, metwi bosom. [You play with dogs, I kite with the moon. Dreaming the impossible puts a crown on the head.]

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! 

YEHYIAHYIAOO, 2021, Polyester, polished cotton, cotton yarns, stranded cotton,140cmx102cm. Osi oano na osi maano na ɔkyirε nuado. [Love is exhibited when we both have our mouths full. A true friend parts freely with what he has.].****DOES THAT INCLUDE COVID-19 VACCINE OR THE PATENTS? …I’m only asking!

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.

WONSA HYε MEANUM, 2021, Polished cotton, white lace ribbon, stranded cotton, 199cmx124cm. Sε wonsa hyε obi naenum a empaa napimpim. [When you find your finger in another’s mouth, you don’t slap the head. Do not hurt someone who has been kind to you.]

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.

2 thoughts on “AKIKAKIKA: RAISING THE ASAFO FLAG IN A NEW AGE.”

  1. On a more serious note,however,I believe that this artist has done a yeoman’s job.I wish he could attract more attention beyond this SINGLE exhibition: because this kind of art embodies so much of our culture( which we are losing ) as well as our history which we do not recall often enough.

    I know that in the past, the phenomenon of the asafo flag ( like the carved coffin) has drawn some international attention and some pieces have landed in foreign collections); but I wonder–and I am just wondering ooo–whether the study of this species of indigenous art could be integrated into our primary school curriculum?

    We ought to have more events like this; and this kind of art could feature more in the media.

    I am just thinking from the top of my head as to how to go about this.

    Our children grow up knowing about the adinkra symbols, even if they have only a vague notion of how many symbols there are and what each one represents.

    Indeed,everyone recognises “gye nyame”.

    Could our hard work in promoting awareness of “asafo flag art” result in our children’s greater knowledge of our proverbs and maxims? (especially the one about the crab and the bum🤣😂🤣😋😋)

    1. Thank you for the feedback with its interesting and quite doable proposal.

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