Military Arts of the Fante

by Doran Ross
Formerly Fowler Museum, UCLA

Sculptural detail from posuban, No. 2 Company, Kormantine, Fante, Ghana, 1974. Photo by Doran H. Ross.

Images of mermaids are rather commonplace throughout West Africa. Typically identified as “Mammy Wata,” many of these images are associated with a system of beliefs dealing with good and bad fortune, which coalesced in southern Nigeria during the early 20th century. The mermaid on the screen was simply identified as “Queen of the Sea” by Asafo elders and probably has little to do with the Nigerian phenomena. Nevertheless, another emblem of this company, a warship painted on the front of the shrine, is said to receive guidance from the mermaid, so there may be some spiritual component.