By Spy Uganda
The Akofena or Akrafena sword is of Ashanti origin from the people of the West African nation of Ghana. One outstanding fact to note about this masterpiece is its uniquely crafted combination of three parts; the blade, a wooden or metal hilt, and a sheath woven from the hide of an animal. Akofena is literally translated to mean ‘sword of war’. As an Adinkra symbol, it is depicted with the image of two crossed swords, but in symbolic terms, it represents courage, heroism, and valor. It is highly significant in the Akan states because it gives legitimacy to the throne or authority.
Oral history holds that the akofena sword emerged in the 17th century, and has been a part of the Asante royal court regalia for centuries. It is mainly wielded by the traditional warrior groups when journeying through the rainforests of the state. Due to the minimal weight of the sword, it can be held with one hand, but two hands are preferable to achieve powerful strikes.
It is believed that Asantehene Opoku Ware I adopted the akofena sword in 1973 as a city-state symbol of the kingdom. On diplomatic assignments, the kings’ emissaries carry the akofena along to symbolize his authority. On such missions, the objective is embedded in the sheath of the sword, according to symbols sage. The two-sword symbol of the akofena represents the integrity and prestige of the Ashanti throne. It is accorded the status of a martial arts sword because of its many uses during battles and is regarded as the national sport of the Ashanti kingdom.
The blades of akofena also play other traditional roles, including the role of ritual swords in some instances; such swords do not have sharp cutting edges. The most important characteristic of a ritual sword is the Asante symbols that differentiate it from others. Some akofena swords have a gold leaf wrapped around their hilt with Asante symbols, while others have the symbols embossed onto the sheath.
The akofena, traditionally, was a war weapon until it phased into the Asante heraldry. Another function of this all-important sword is the intrinsic role it plays when the Ashanti Kingdom is performing the blackening ceremony organized during the death of a significant traditional leader. It is included in the ceremonial stools, which are seen as the person’s soul. These stools are blackened and kept inside a shrine in honor of the deceased.