I. The history, significance and usage of Asante royal regalia continued

12 Umbrellas

It is not known when these prestigious items of regalia arrived in the Akan region or from what direction. Canopies and sun-shades were documented as being used by the rulers of North African kingdoms such as Mali in the 14th century ad but they could also have been introduced from East Africa, which suggests an Asian origin (Al-Umari quoted in Levtzion & Spalding 2003, 55). The state umbrella of the Asantehene, which is known as Boaman (lit. ‘Conqueror of all Nations’), and those of important chiefs are very large and can accommodate upwards of 10 people. One of the principal functions of an umbrella is to create and maintain a cooler shaded environment beneath its coverings during long public events. When it is manipulated correctly, an umbrella can promote a constant circulation of air as its bearer (kyinie kyimini) thrusts it up and down and twirls it round. Umbrellas are topped with finials (ntuatire) carved from wood in a variety of abstract and representational forms and covered in gold foil. The subject of an umbrella finial, like other abstract and representational regalia, is intended to call to mind proverbs associated with the strength and wisdom of its chiefly owner.

13 Swords

It is not known when swords were first introduced into Akan communities, but early examples probably derive from Islamic weapons that were passed along the trans-Saharan trade routes. The use of swords on the Gold Coast was recorded by the end of the 16th century ad and they have continued to play a significant role in ritual and ceremonial contexts ever since. There are several distinct types of state sword normally found in the regalia of the Asantehene or of a high-ranking chief. By far the most important of the ceremonial swords are the keteanofena (lit. ‘edge of the sleeping mat swords’) which are revered and passed from an Asantehene to his successor. This group is composed of two major sub-divisions: the akrafena and the bosomfena. Akrafena, or ‘swords of the soul’ are used, as their name suggests, in fairly restricted, often private rituals for the purification of the Asantehene’s soul, while swords in the bosomfena division play a more varied and public role.

The division of these swords into two groups embodies and represents two distinct spiritual elements. Those carried on the Asantehene’s right (akrafena) represent his soul or life-force (kra) and are washed, along with other items of regalia, as part of the annual soul-cleansing ceremony (odwira). The swords carried on the Asantehene’s left (bosomfena) represent his ego, spirit or personality (sunsum) that he inherits from his father. This complementary division of regalia also mirrors that of the Asante court, which presents itself during public occasions in the form of an arc with distinct right and left wings as discussed earlier. The third and somewhat more common name for the swords in the bosomfena category is nsuaefena (lit. ‘oath swords’), which reflects the fact that they are used by the Asantehene to swear his oath of office during installation ceremonies and by the lesser chiefs. These swords may also function as badges of office that vouch for the veracity of official messengers who are entrusted to deliver verbal communications.

As Asante society became increasingly complex, items such as swords became more elaborate in form, size and decoration. A third, less common, sword type, known as the sword of kingship or long sword (afenatene), has a double or triple blade and several gold-covered handles that spring from a single thin shaft. These swords stand handle uppermost near the Asantehene when he is sitting in state within the palace (Bowdich 1819, 312). Swords of the akrafena division of the keteanofena may sometimes be distinguished from those in the bosomfena group by virtue of the fact that their leather or ray-skin scabbards and hilts may be whitened with clay (hyire) and the pommel ornament is shaped like an openwork flower rather than the conical form normally seen on bosomfena swords. Akrafena are also unlikely to have the very large cast gold ornaments (abosodee) that are attached to the scabbards of bosomfena swords. Instead, they are embellished with a simple embossed circular disc (nmem). Cast gold sword ornaments, like beads, come in a wide variety of abstract and representational forms, some of which are modelled on European objects.

14 Knives

Smaller, but related, artefacts in the form of ornate knives (sika sepo) can also be considered part of Asante state regalia. These richly adorned items probably served as domestic implements as well as weapons, despite the fact that they were seldom actually used or even carried by the Asantehene. Groups of less ornate knives were carried by warriors as part of their military kit (ntoa).