Asafo Flag, 19th century

  • Fante, African

Silk brocade and cotton fabric

  • Overall: 62 1/2 × 39 inches (158.8 × 99.1 cm)

Gift of Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome


On View

  • African N1AA


Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas

Crafted from brocade and appliqued silk-cut motifs, this Asafo flag is unusual in both its imagery and composition. Both imported fabrics were highly respected as status symbols. The imagery of a crowned heraldic lion holding arrows in its left paw and a sword in its right recalls a strikingly similar decoration on the lintel of the main entrance gate to the Elmina castle, where it would have been seen by everyone upon approach. The flag was likely commissioned by an Asafo military company from nearby Elmina town. What is unclear in this case is how the imagery might have been reinterpreted to serve the company's purposes. Did the company have some historical connection to the castle and its expatriate residents? Even so, it may be difficult to tell precisely which European entity is being referenced here, as the monument changed hands several times. By inserting the Union Jack, the company may have been promoting its relationship with the British, who were the last European occupants of the castle before colonial rule began. The meaning of the assortment of indigenous and foreign motifs—hand, heart, ladder, crossed keys, padlock, key, a black man being attacked by a quadruped, and a white man standing aloof—is unclear. Nii O. Quarcoopome From Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present (Detroit, 2009)

Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome (Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA)

2003-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Quarcoopome, Nii. “Akan Ceremonial Cloths, Costumes, and Flags,” Bulletin of the DIA 91, 1/4 (2017): p. 71 (fig. 3.26).

Fante, African, Asafo Flag, 19th century, silk brocade and cotton fabric. Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome, 2002.196.