The Fante people live along the coast of Ghana to the west of Accra in fishing villages such as Anomabu, Saltpond, Mankessim, and Elmina, and in the town of Cape Coast.
Elmina was the site of the first major European settlement in West Africa with the construction of St.George's Castle by the Portuguese in 1492.
Over the centuries that followed the region was a centre for slave trading and the Fante became key intermediaries between the slavers and the peoples of the interior such as the Asante.
Asafo companies developed as military organisations of young men in the Fante villages, adapting flags and other European-inspired regalia to local use. As well as defending the village against local enemies and incursions by the Asante, the two or three companies in each community developed intense local rivalries, which were acted out during festivals and other ceremonial occasions.
The active fighting role of the Asafo companies ended with the British colonial takeover late in the nineteenth century, but they remain key associations in the ritual life of Fante villages.
Each company has a central shrine, called a Posuban, which is generally an elaborate concrete structure decorated brightly colored figures, and which serves as a store for regalia and a focus for sacrifices. Flags, called Frankaa, are a key item of Asafo regalia.
At annual festivals, funerals for company members and other occasions flags are hung around the shrine and paraded through the village.
Although the exact origins of Asafo flags are unclear, there are reports of their use dating back at least to the late 17th century.
The imagery on the flags asserts the wealth and power of the company and explicitly challenges rival groups. Often the design alludes to proverbs, reflecting the importance of proverbs throughout Akan culture.