Military Arts of the Fante

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Posuban (cement shrine), building and sculpture by Kwamina Amoaku. Gomoa Mankesim, Fante, Ghana, 1979. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

Asafo companies are the traditional warrior groups of the Fante peoples of southern Ghana. Each state may have from two to fourteen or more companies with as many as seven active groups in a single town. Although their military roles have been assumed by the national government, the Asafo still perform critical roles in their local communities including guardianship of local deities, funeral ceremonies for members, and the production of an akwambo (annual festival). The locus of Asafo activities is the posuban (company shrine), which is also called by the Fante the company “fort” or “castle.” The shrine often houses company or town gods, company regalia such as flags and drums, and serves as a monument to the group's power and prestige. The posuban may reach three stories and are typically adorned with brightly painted cement sculptures drawn from much of the same corpus of traditional sayings as the royal regalia.