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State Gifts Presentation Sword.JPG
21st Century akrafena. Gold-ring pommel.

More elaborate Akan swords have adinkra symbols in the ring and on the blade.
Type Sword / Fighting Knife / Machete
Place of origin Akanland
Production history
Produced Ashanti Empire (1670–1902) to present
Blade length approx. 70–73 cm (27½–28½ in.)

Akrafena (Akan sword) is an Akan sword, that was originally meant for warfare, but has also assumed other certain functions. They carry adinkra symbols that evoke specific messages. The sword has three parts: a blade, usually made of some metal such as iron; the hilt, made of carved wood or metal; and the sheath, usually made of animal hide. The blade in ritual swords may not have a sharp cutting edge. It often has incised lines or Akan symbolic designs on it. Some swords have double (afenata) or triple (mfenasa) blades. The hilt may be wrapped with gold leaf with various Akan symbols worked onto it. The hilt itself may be carved to encode an Akan symbol. The sheath may carry an embossment (abosodee) that comprises Akan symbols meant to evoke certain expressive messages. The mpomponsuo (responsibility) sword of the Asantehene, for example, has an embossment of a coiled snake with a bird in its mouth. This conveys the Akan message: nanka bobonya mede asase anya onwam – the puff adder that cannot fly has caught the hornbill that flies. This is used to symbolize patience, prudence, and circumspection.

History[edit | edit source]

Akan Self-defense Afenatene during Akan wars

Part of Akan weaponry used during ancient Akan wars

Bonoman Kingdom (10th century AD) and the Akan States (13th century AD to 21st century)[edit | edit source]

Bonoman Long swords were used primarily by Akan cavalry and commanders (who were also usually mounted), not infantry during the 10th to 15th centuries AD.[1] In the 16th century AD, and at the time of Denkyira, Akyem and Akwamu land warfare consisted mostly of spearmen and bowmen on foot, mounted archers using two-handed bows, and mounted swordsmen with two-handed swords (twin blades).[1] Akan Swords were not a primary weapon for all Akan combat but were instead used mostly for Akan shock attacks, defensive strokes, and for close-in fighting.[1] Blades were heavy as they were made mostly of bronze and later iron, and pommels were often knobbed and used as balances or for very close-in work.[1] Short swords may have been used in follow-up attacks, as short sword carriers were armoured completely and accompanied with a shield.[1]

Akan Akrafena Swords with wooden or metal pommels decorated with beaten gold have featured in Akan court regalia since the 17th century AD.[1] Akan Swords were used during Akan wars since the 17th century. The Akans were engaged in a series of military conflicts from the 18th century AD, between Akanland military forces and other African and European states up until the 20th century.[1]

In the 21st century, the Akan Swords are primarily by Akans for self-defense,[2] and the Akan Akrafena (Akan Sword of war) is primarily used for Akan warfare and land warfare.[2]

Types[edit | edit source]

The Akan Akrafena

The Akan Sword of War

Traditionally there are about five types of Akan swords with some better known than others.

There are two main types of swords in the regalia of the Akan chief: Afenatene (Long sword) and the Short sword. The Afenatene usually does not have a sheath. It is, however, topped by an Akan Adinkra symbol. The short sword may be used as Akrafena or Nsuaefena (also known as Akrafena).[3]

  • Akrafena: The Akrafena is used in wars, and in conjunction with an Akan stool blackening ceremony; The Akrafena may be carried by the king’s emissaries on Akanland diplomatic missions.[3] In such situations, the meaning associated with the Akan Adinkra symbol embossed on the sheath conveys the message of the mission.[3]
  • Afenatene: is used by Akans to penetrate (weaponry) the Akan war opponents hearts. The Blade of an Afenatene sword shows the akoma (heart), denkyem (crocodile), akuma (axe) and the sankofa.[3]
  • Afenanta: The Afenanta is a "Double Blade Sword" used by the Akans for cutting human ligaments during an Akan war.[3] The Afenanta has the Akan denkyem and sankofa symbols embroidered onto the blades.[3]

The Mpomponsuo sword is used by the Asantehene in taking the oath of office. The other Akan amanhene use the Mpomponsuo sword to swear the oath of allegiance to the Asantehene.[3] The Mpomponsuo sword is one of the four principal state swords of Akanland. The Asantehene sword was created by Asantehene Nana Opoku Ware I (r. 1731 – 1742), and is the foremost example of Akrafena.[3]

Akofo (Master swordsmen)[edit | edit source]

Akan Master Swordsman (Adumfoo) in Akanland

The Demonstration of the Akan Akrafena

Asafo (warriors/Warrioresses) are in Akanland and in the Asantehene's court and progress through four tiers of rank, at times referred to as levels, there are:

  • The Afenasoafoo (Akanland's Sword bearers): Afenasoafoo is a child, an Akofo-in-training;[4]
  • The Adumfoo (Akanland's Executioners): Adumfoo is an apprentice;[4]
  • The Akofo Abrafoo (Akanland's Military police): Abrafoo is interchangeably referred to as "Akofo";[4]
  • The Akofo Asafo (Akanland's Warriors / Professional Soldiers);[4]
  • The Akofo Ankobia (Highest rank: Akanland's Special forces): Ankobia is the oldest, most experienced and best trained of all Akofo. A Ankobia is chosen by the Akofo council.[4]

Schools of swordsmanship[edit | edit source]

There are Akanland schools that hold the techniques of these swords practitioners in the past. The schools hold the genuine Akan Swords techniques.[4]

It is said that there were 20 fighting postures in training; The Akan practitioners of the past generally used low kicking techniques to distract, dismantle and disable the opponent when holding the sword in one hand and sheath in the other. The sword-based fighting techniques is from Eskrima and the kicking techniques were generally from Capoeira.[4]

Contemporary swordsmiths (bladesmiths)[edit | edit source]

Akan Nsuaefena – Embroidered with the Akan Adinkra on the Sword Blade

There is a host of Akan swordsmiths (bladesmith) in each the five Akan ɔman:

In addition to an Akan swordmith being self-taught like other contemporary Akan swordsmiths, the Akan swordsmiths have also received training, by an Akan master swordsmith.[4]

Akan Swords and shields of war (21st Century): changing needs and tactics[edit | edit source]

Akrafena (Akan Sword of war)[edit | edit source]

Akan Master Swordsman (Adumfoo)

The Demonstration of the Akan Akrafena:
Sword fighting techniques

The Akan Akrafena (Sword of my Soul) was generally held in the hand by Akan Asafos. There was no real reason to hold it on their sides. However, they did strap it to their back at times when they were traveling through the rain-forest regions of Akanland or using other weapons such as spears and bows.[5] The Akan sword was first and foremost one-handed, though for more powerful strikes, two hands were used. The Akan techniques were generally hand and a half.[5]

Akrafokonmu (Akan Shield of war)[edit | edit source]

Akan Akrafokonmu

The Akans Shield used during Akan wars

Early European visitors to Akanland, described dazzling displays of court regalia at the court of the Asantehene.[5] Akanland's natural gold resources had made the Akans wealthy and court regalia, which included textiles (kente), ivory and gold, reflected high levels of Akanland skill and technology.[5]

The Akrafokonmu (Akan Shield) is made out of iron and cast in gold. The Akrafokonmu was threaded onto a stick to which white pineapple fibre cord was tied to the ends so that it could be worn around the neck by those responsible for the ritual purification of the Asantehene's soul.[5] The Akans call the shields "Akrafokonmu", usually translated as "soul discs" or "soul washers' badges".[5]

This shield's design of a quartered circle has been identified as 'nkwantaanan' ('nkwan' ‘paths’ or ‘roads’, 'anan' ‘four’). Crossroads were considered to be places of spiritual and cultural significance.[5]

Status and social standing[edit | edit source]

  • During the Empire of Ashanti period, Akan swords also had ranks (hierarchy) depending on who wielded them and what their purpose was. The highest ranking of these swords was known as the Mpomponsuo, literally meaning "responsibility sword." Only two such swords existed and were wielded by the King's two bodyguards, who always stood on either side of him and held the nobility title of Ankobia.[4]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Davidson (1991), p. 240.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Collins and Burns (2007), p. 139.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Collins and Burns (2007), p. 140.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Davidson (1991), p. 242.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Collins and Burns (2007), pp. 140–141.

External links[edit | edit source]

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