This Akan sword type called an afena was probably inspired by an Islamic North African prototype. Although it lacks a cutting edge, the afena in Asante royal regalia symbolizes a leader’s supreme authority over life and death. On ceremonial occasions, royal guards carry swords to signify the king’s broad temporal powers. However, the afena also serves a religious function communicated by the sacred ray fish skin overlay on its leather scabbard. The scabbard’s white chalk coating indicates the blade has been ritually consecrated, endowing it with protective powers. Typically an afena is embellished with a cast-gold figurative emblem illustrating a proverb about leadership. Here a bird carries a keg of gunpowder in its mouth and cannons on its wings, which are twisted into a “wisdom knot.” Common in royal art, this motif represents the proverb: “A great leader goes to war with full armor, swiftness and wisdom.”
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Asante, African
Title
  • Royal Ceremonial Sword
Date late 19th or early 20th century
Medium wood, gold leaf, rayfish skin, cast gold, and leather
Dimensions Overall: 28 × 6 1/2 × 6 inches (71.1 × 16.5 × 15.2 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Joseph H. Parsons Fund, Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman, Stanford C. Stoddard, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Eisenberg, Ralph H. Booth Bequest Fund, Abraham Borman Family Fund and Africa, Oceania and Indigenous Americas General Art Fund
Accession Number 2005.2
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African: Fit for a King, Level 1 (see map)
(Albert Nuamah, Detroit, Michigan, USA);
2005-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Quarcoopome, Nii. “Akan Leadership and Status Objects,” Bulletin of the DIA 91, 1/4 (2017): p. 47 (fig. 2.30a-b).