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Jeffreys, Ella (2022) War People: A Cultural History of Violence among the Fante Asafo. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00037840

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Abstract

This thesis examines the asafo company system, a paramilitary organisation indigenous to the Fante-speaking communities of the Gold Coast, now south-central Ghana. The asafo emerged to protect coastal towns from external threats in a period of political turmoil during the eighteenth century. Yet their cultural significance continued long after this period had ended. Although the asafo’s formal military role was prohibited under the growth of British colonial rule, members engaged in frequent episodes of violence until the mid-twentieth century. The thesis explores the activities of the Fante asafo from its origin in the eighteenth century until the twilight of British colonialism in the mid-twentieth century, with a particular emphasis on the final hundred years of this chronology. It interrogates the social identities integral to asafo companies by exploring the contexts within which violence erupted and the ways in which it was instrumentalised, historicized and remembered. It is argued that the military character so fundamental to the asafo at its inception propelled the institution forward even in the face of substantial political change. The company system’s expansion into spheres which were not essentially military - the aesthetic, the spiritual and the social - allowed for the continuation of a warrior culture into the twentieth century. The thesis is organised along broadly thematic lines. Chapter One grounds the Fante asafo in the broader military culture of the Gold Coast. Chapter Two analyses the ways in which violence was memorialised and perpetuated through material culture and language. Chapter Three unpacks asafo cosmologies, emphasising the intersection between spirituality and violence. Chapter Four explores gendered and embodied notions of asafo identity. Finally, Chapter Five examines the role of place-making and attempts to regulate the physical landscape both by asafo members and by the British colonial officials.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Wayne Dooling and John Parker
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00037840
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2022 13:16
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/37840
Funders: Other

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