Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1823 Asante warrior
Subject: warrior
Culture: Asante/Ashanti
Setting: Asante empire, 1806-1902
Object: costume


* Spring 1993 p59
"Magical charms ... were widely used for protection in war before firearms became available.  However, the obsolescence of shields and body armour was almost certainly matched, as at Benin, by an increased use of protective amulets and other charms among Asante soldiers.  An added factor in Asante was the Muslim influence from the Northern territories. There, as in much of the western Sudan, war shirts, batakari, and cloth caps covered with amuletic charms sewn up in leather packets had been worn by soldiers and hunters for centuries before their use became widespread in Asante.  The first mention of such war dress in Asante is by Thomas Bowdich who was a member of the British African Company's Mission sent to Kumase in 1817:
The most surprising superstition of the Ashantees is their confidence in the fetishes or saphies they purchase so extravagantly from the Moors, believing that they make them invulnerable and invincible in war, paralyse the hand of the enemy, shiver their weapons, divert the course of balls, render both sexes prolific, and avert all evils but sickness (which they can only assuage) and natural death.
It may be that this type of war dress became popular in Asante during the eighteenth century.  The more elaborate batakari would have been worn only by chiefs or war captains, partly because the purchasing of these charms was an expensive business beyond the means of the ordinary soldier.  There may also have been a practical purpose in that leaders could easily be distinguished on the battlefield.  In this sense the batakari may have had something in common with the colourful and stylised jibbeh worn by the officers of the Mahdist army in late nineteenth century Sudan.  A type of dress uniform, batakari kese or great batakari, with charms of gold, silver and colourful cloth, was developed from the standard battle dress."  [references omitted]

* Christoph, Müller, & Ritz-Müller 1999 p407
"Einflüsse aus dem Norden weist auch die Kriegstracht aus, die batakari-Kittel und dei dazugehörigen Tuchkappen.  Schon frUher glaubten die Asante, wirksame magische Schutzmittel von möglichst weither, von Leuten am Rand ihrer Welt gewinnen zu künnen, und meinten, daß diese besonders zauberkundig seien.  Von Muslimen bezog man etwa die gemeinhin in Leder- oder Tuchbeutel eingenähten, bei ranghohen Persönlichkeiten auch in Gold- oder Silberkapseln gefaßten Amulette, die am Kittel getragen werden.  Sie sollten den Kriegern Unverletzlichkeit verleihen, das heißt die Arme der Feinde lähmen oder zittern machen, so daß ihre Kugelnishr Siel verfehlten.  Die größten dieser Hemden (batakari kese, "großer batakari") besitzen nur der Asantehene, der das seine von seinem Vorfahren "Katakyie" Opoku Ware, ein Stück aus dem Jahr 1731, geerbt haben soll, und andere einflußreiche Machthaber.  Jeder Asantehene muß zweimal im Leben den batakari kese anlegen: anläßlich des Inthronisationsrituals und während der ayi-kese genannten Zeremonie, die den Abschluß der Bestattungsfeierlichkeiten für seinen Vorgänger bildet.  Im erstern Fall unterstreicht das Trachtstück seine Rolle als militärischer Führer, im zweiten die ungezähmte Gewalt, die beim Tod eines Herrschers frei wird."


* Blier 1998 p152-153
"The status and ritual associations of regalia are complemented in traditions of royal textiles, among these kente cloth.  While the word kente is from the south, of neighboring Fante origin (from the word kenten, meaning basket), the term has been more generally associated with cloths from the Asante area which Fante traders disseminated along the coast.  Despite kente's local associations, its technological roots appear to come from further north, in early textiles such as those found in sites near the Sahara in the eleventh century.  Myths link the origins of kente to the trickster and wisdom-sybilizing spider Ananse (nature's weaver).  The process of narrow-loom weaving was ritually marked: no cloth was initiated or terminated on Fridays and offerings were made to the looms after major transgressions.
"[...]  Each kente pattern had its own name.  More than three hundred warp and weft patterns have been documented.  Names may derive from visual features of the cloth itself; for example, 'liar's cloth' incorporates sharp shifts in the warp design and an alternating movement from right to left.  This cloth was said to have been worn when the king held court, as a means of questioning the veracity of the people who came before him.  Men usually wore and still wear their kente cloth over the left shoulder and upper arm, the left being the arm of potential danger."