Asafo : A Political-Military Institution of the Akan

Asafotufiam Procession

The video below represents the annual festival celebrated by the people of Ada commemorates the victories of the Ada warriors and honours those who died during battle. The historic events are re-enacted with ritual battles between men in colourful fighting gear.

The asafo is a political-military institution of the Akan. Even though its social and political functions have been well documented, the expressive and aesthetic culture of the Asafo institution has received limited scholarly attention (de Graft Johnson, 1932; Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, 1940; Datta and Porter, 1971; and Sutherland-Addy, 1998). Sutherland-Addy (1998, p. 90), for example, suggests that “the rhetoric, libations, historical songs and chants, praise-poetry, legends and drama texts may now be examined with a view to demonstrating how they provide the texture, context, impact and value of historical fact” that mark the asafo institution.

Even though the Akan societies, had no standing army, the asafo – i.e., a people’s militia – was a well established social and political organization based on martial principles. Every able-bodied person belonged to an asafo group; every child automatically belonged to his or her father’s company.

Internal sub-divisions within an individual company included the main fighting body, the scouts, reserves, and the minstrel unit whose main job it was to sing patriotic and war songs to boost the morale of the military.


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The asafo companies forming the national army were organized into main fighting divisions thus: adonten (vanguard – main body under the adontenhene), twafo (advance guard), kyidom (rearguard – under the kyidomhene), nifa (right wing under the nifahene), benkum (left wing under the benkumhene), akwansra (scouting division), ankobea (home guard under the ankobeahene), and gyaase (the king’s bodyguard under the gyaasehene).


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Asafo companies were also differentiated by the different colors of headgear and hairstyles worn by members, exclusive drums, horns and other musical instruments, appellations, and emblems. Other units within the main divisions included afonasoafoo (the carriers of spears and shields), sumankwaafoo (the herbalists and medicine men), and the asokwafo (heralds). Asafo companies existed in all the Akan states.

In Asante, the national asafo was commanded by the Asantehene, but two generals, the kurontire and akwamu, were the military leaders. The Fantse went a step further by incorporating some European customs in their Asafo companies.

The typical Asafo company in a Fantse township, according to Aggrey (1978), was headed by the Tufohene, the military advisor to the chief of the township. Next in line is the Asafobaatan. Supi was the commanding officer, while the divisional captain within a company was called the Safohene (for the male) or Asafoakyere (for the female). Other ranks in the Asafo were the Asafokomfo (the priest), okyerema – head of the akyeremafo (the drummers), frankaakitani (flag bearer), sekanboni (sword maker), okyeame (spokesperson or linguist), and abrafoo (police officers) and adumfoo (executioners).

Abrafoo – Executioners

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