The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Akan Leadership Arts

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Asante artist, Ghana. Chief in war shirt. Photo by Doran H. Ross.  

Throughout many parts of West Africa there is a tradition of wearing amulet-laden smocks in the context of both war and the hunt, in addition to select ceremonial occasions. Among the Akan these “war shirts” are called batakari, and the most substantial of these, as seen here, belong to paramount chiefs and are called batakari kese or “great” batakari. This example is lavishly covered with both Koranic amulets and amulets more clearly rooted in indigenous belief systems (e.g. the leather covered gourds and animal horns). No longer worn in battle, these impressive garments are still worn at certain moments during a chief’s installation and at the funerals of other chiefs.