Kyirem No. 2 Asafo Company: Mankessim
Mankessium has historically been a center of Fante Asafo tradition. The Mankessim Kingdom(1252–1844) was a pre-colonial African state in modern-day Ghana and is regarded as the heartland of the Fante people, it operated as capital of the Fante Confederacy in the 19th century.
In march we visited the iconic Kyirem No. 2 posuban. Possibly one of the elaborate shrines with various proverbs, folktales, and historical narratives.
An elder of the area kindly explaining the proverbs and symbolic significance of each structure.
Dating from 1891 the Kyirem No.2 Asafo Company posuban is one of the oldest shrines. In 1973 the original shrine was taken down and construction began in 1974 to erect the current structure, it was completed in 1979.
The artist + architect of the posuban was Kweku Attah (b. 1902) from Cape Coast working with another mason called Kwabena Mensa with additional manual labor supplied by the Asafo Company.
The most prominent image on top of the structure is a fierce winged seven-headed God with a three headed dragon holding a bow and arrow – these are symbols of military toughness endowed with magical powers that enable the Company to conquer its rivals.
The winged dragon perched on the head of the God refers to the expression, “Will you fly or will you vanish?”—the implication being that regardless of what you do, you cannot escape the reach of No. 2 Company!
The figure underneath is an all-seeing god of the company whose eyesight is so keen that it once detected the footprints of an antelope on a rock. With his bow and arrow he is said to be protecting the shrine, the Ghanaian coat of arms (symbol of national unity) in front of him and the entire nation.
The antlered deer’s on either side of the coat of arms are identified as WANNA and BEBE they are incongruous since antlered deer’s are not native to Ghana. – based on images Kweku Atta found of deer's in foreign publications these animals were described as ‘’bongos’’ (despite the fact that bongos have unbranched horns) the bongos is thought to embody the power to anticipate the evil intentions of an enemy.
The top level of the shrine are both cement and real cannons. European cannons are scattered in many Fante states and their presence is almost always explained by the activities of the legendary giant Asebu Amamfi.
On top of each corner of the roof is a representation of a palm-wine pot which portray the Asafo company is never empty and always ready to serve.
The founding fathers of Mankessim is represented in the three large male sculptures on the second floor of the shrine. The three warriors are considered historical figures who before there were any chiefs led the Fante from Techiman to Mankessim.
From left to right they are identified as כsun (elephant), כburumankoma (whale), and כdapagyan (eagle). The three founders are identified with the most powerful animals on land, sea and air.
The painted clocks on the wall behind the leaders are both set at 11:55 and reference the diligence of the Asafo company: “The Asafo captains say that whatever they have to do, they will do it now, because they would not like the morning to overtake them.”
The ground level of the shrine has eight sculptural ensembles. Centered on the front wall is a winged, two-headed god, with a third eye on the forehead of each head holding a sword with a snake in his lap and riding a leopard. He is כbo Yaakwa, the chief obosom of the Asafo company.
The buffalo or dukier (native animal of Africa) has a snake coiled between its horns and a bird nesting on the snake which depicts confidence and patience: “It is a patient bird that nests on a snake between the horns of a buffalo/dukier .” The Asafo company is asserting that it can meet any challenge, and indeed accomplish the impossible.
On the other side of the posuban is an elephant representing the proverb, “When an elephant steps on trap, no more trap,” an explicit statement of the company’s strength and power.
The two lions with red light bulbs in their mouths in front of the railing are simply considered to be guardians of the shrine.
“A dead lion is greater than a living leopard”
Further out from the shrine on the left is a hunter with a shotgun aiming at a vulture, while a second hunter prevents him from firing. The second man stops the first because the Fante do not eat vultures, “it is taboo.” The saying is that no matter how desperate you are, you do not violate customary laws – ‘’The hunter who killed a vulture has wasted his gunpowder’’.
Closer to the center is a man wearing an amulet-laden warshirt called a batakari and holding scales in his left hand and a cannon ball in his right. In Asafo meaning the scales indicate that No. 2 Company is weighing its enemies and in every instance “they come up short,” “they do not balance.
The center is of a rider on a horse: “If the horse is mad it does not follow that the rider is also mad,” warning the viewer not to judge a situation entirely by appearances.
Painted of the front wall of the shrine is a design borrowed from the Asante. It is taken from the designs found on their stamped adinkra mourning cloth, and the motif is called Gye Nyame, usually translated as “Except God” or “Only God.”
The final elements of the shrine rest on the ground directly in front of the main god included here is Asebu Amanfi’s actual cannon/walking stick. Directly behind the cannon is a third multi headed god called Akor, who also serves as a receptacle for libations. A fourth god called Sompol is represented by the figure to the right of Akor and by the two mounds or esiw of the shrine in front of Sompol along with the nearby enclosure of stones that served as ancient weapons for the Fante and their placement in front of the posuban is intended to wand off ill-intended spirits.
The checker-board motif on the lower balustrade is reference to war and the ability to outwit its rivals. The saying painted on the barrier enclosing the lower level is ''COME AND TRY WHOEVER WILL'' with this statement the Company dares any rival to test its mettle.