Military Arts of the Fante

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Flag dancer with guards of the flag No. 2 Company, Mankesim, FanteGhana, 1976. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

Flag dancing choreography features interrelated gestures of leadership, presentation, display, protection, and aggression. The military theme of Asafo imagery is carried over into the dance, and the performers enact loosely structured plays about past battles. Supporting the dancer are actors armed with muskets called asikamafu (“guards of the flag”), who also serve as crowd controllers. In a typical flag dancing sequence the flag is carried proudly into the fight, then hidden from view in a tactical movement, wrapped around the body of the flag bearer or rolled up and tossed to another soldier for protection, then unfurled victoriously upon success, all to the accompaniment of drums and gongs.