View Full Version : Asafo Safo (1)

27th April 2014, 05:35 PM
Annankrom, was the most miserable of the seven villages hidden by the three great mountains. It’s ruler, Annan was a tyrant and a very different man from the bright eyed idealist who protected his people and led them away from a land engulfed in civil war. However, no sooner had he become chief than he became the type of ruler his people had fled from.

He seized most of the land from his people, forcing them to survive in harsh conditions and to work on land that was hardly any good for farming. Most of them were forced to work in the mines, both young and old. There were also rumours, that he hunted those he perceived to be a threat to his rule in his private forest reserve.

So Tawia, a farmer, whose harvest had failed yet again, was upset when his son decided to become one of the asafo as many of them enforced the chief’s rule. ‘The asafo are only interested in hurting people and enforcing Annan’s laws’, he said in hushed tones. Like most people, he was aware of the extensive nkwansrafo (spy) network present in the village. Any wrong words said and one could vanish in the dark of the night. Permanently.

‘Someone has to do it. The asafo’s numbers have dimisihed since the last year. If recruitment doesn’t take place soon, the village wil have less security and order.’ replied Safo.
‘Those are Takyiwaa’s words.’ Tawia mused. ‘ She is one of the few asafoakyer (female asafo captain) who actually performs her duties.’
‘Alright, son, you have my blessing,’

‘Thank you, father but before I leave, there is someone I must see’.

Amoawa, at the age of 13 was known as the toughest person in the village. She had defeated thieves, bandits and even sadistic asafo singlehandedly. Some people viewed her as a threat to the role of Annan. She was the one that Safo had come to see. ‘Teach me how to fight, so that I can be more than an average asafo’ he told her.

Amoawa simply stared at him. Such a request from someone three years older than her was unusual. She sighed,’Alright, help me bring in the harvest and then I’ll teach you’. After gathering the harvest, she led him to a clearing in her farm, sunk into an offensive stance and before Safo could react, punched him in the throat.

Saof stumbled backwards, coughing profusely. She waited for him to stand up, then darted towards him, her fist looming large in the field of her vision. He scrambled away from her, his hands raised to defend himself. She swung her fists repeatedly, and as he blocked them, struck him with a low sweep of her right foot.

He rolled away to regain his balance and made a low sweep with his own foot, which she deftly sidestepped. He panted heavily, sweat streaking down his face.
‘Are you alright’? asked Amoawa.
‘Fine, just don’t hit me in the throat again’.
She leapt at him, left leg outstretched and aimed at his chest. He dodged the attack and spun towards her, his left leg swinging towards her belly. Before she could grab it, he placed his right hand on the ground and swung his left leg away, moving his right leg to kick her belly. She barely moved an inch.

‘Good, she said.’ Anticipate your opponent’s attacks’.

He went on the offensive, throwing several punches which she sidestepped. He watched her closely, moving in rythmn to her steps. This allowed him to sidestep her own punches. Eventually he dodged her kicks and brushed her wrists aside, deflecting her punches as the day progressed before butting her head with his own.
She stumbled once, then made two headbutts of her own, sending him sprawling backwards. He shook his head and rolled away, regaining his balance as she stamped the spot on the ground where he had lain seconds earlier. She made three successive ground sweeps with her legs, forcing him to somersault backwards.

She then made several high kicks aimed at his chest, each of which he sidestepped. He swung a blow at her but she caught it, clutched his right arm and pulled, sending him flying above her shoulder and into the dirt. He pushed himself onto his feet, spun away from her kicks and struck her twice in the chest, causing her to stumble backwards, before regaining her balance.

He leapt at her, his fist aimed at her throat. She raised her hand and blocked the blow. She shoved his arm backwards and raised her hand, above her head, signaling that they should stop.
‘Haven’t you noticed, Safo? It’s nighttime.’ She said causing Safo to look up into the blackness of the night sky.
‘See you here tomorrow morning, Asafo Safo’
For two weeks, he showed up at her farm every morning and left in the evening, rubbing herbal leaves on his arms and legs to ease the pain. One rainy day, he showed up at the same time, ignoring the downpour. They both sunk into offensive stances and as lightning flashed across the sky, darted at each other.

Safo swung a right fist at her, but she brushed it aside and swung at his chest with her leg. He twisted his body away from the kick, spinning to the left of her leg and struck her at the side with an outstretched palm. She swung her fists at him repeatedly but he bobbed and weaved away from her puches. He ducked two punches and struck her repeatedly with open palms.

She skidded across the wet floor, stopping in time to see him leaping towards her, his fist aimed at her head. She caught it and tugged at it, drawing him close and hit his chest with both palms, sending him backwards. He recovered and sped towards her , rapidly shifting his position from left to right. She followed his movements closely, trying to determine the direction from which he would attack and spun towards him, her right foot aimed at his shoulder. He blocked the foot with his own foot and blocked each blow with his palm. He caught both fists in his hands and shoved her backwards.

She stumbled backwards and then regained her balance. ‘Alright, I’ve nothing else to teach you. Takyiwaa has returned to the village. If you hurry, you can meet her before the curfew.’’

‘Thank you, Wura (Master) Amoawa. ‘See you soon’ said Safo before dashing off into the bushes, taking a short cut through the forest that would lead him to the huts of Takyiwaa’s asafo company. As the rain continued to fall in torrents, Amoawa sighed ‘Don’t make me regret this, when you become an asafo, Safo’

An arrow whizzed through the air and Amoawa instinctively spun away from its path but then two more arrows struck her in the arms. Four arrows tore through her legs and eight more pierced her back. She fell on her belly in pain. She heard rustling in the bushes around her and watched as several asafo, bow and arrows drawn approached her cautiously led by two women from two special branches of the asafo. One bore the traditional attire of a priestess and the other wore the somber black of the )brafo) (state executioner).

The priestess whispered into the ear of the baby faced )brafo), causing her to glance at Amoawa briefly before bringing her sandaled foot on her head, sending Amoawa into darkness.

‘Take her to the forest with the others’ the priestess ordered. ‘Today is the day of the chief’s sacred hunt’.

Amoawa regained consciousness and found herself lying on the forest floor with four other people. She also noticed with a sickening feeling that her body was still pierced with arrows. She pulled them out quickly, ignoring the searing pain this caused and examined those around her.

She recognized one as a market woman who openly protested against the chief every market day. The second was an panin (elder) named Takyi, the third was an okuani (farmer) like her and the fourth the osuani of an akodze maker. She heard the rustle of bushes nearby and hurriedly roused the others.

They were alarmed and afraid, but she insisted that they calm down and follow her. They crouched low beneath the tall grass, moving on hands and feet as agroup of asafo led by Annan, a priestess and an )brafo) emerged from the bushes and began to search for them.

Annan drew out an arrow from his quiver and clutched the string of his bow, waiting for the slightest noise to be made by his prey. Amoawa peeked above the grass and told them to stop moving. She noted that the path ahead of them was strewn with dry leaves and that merely touching them would reveal their location.

She sought out a different path and motioned for them to follow her. For hours, they moved this way until nighttime fell and she realized that their pursuers were gone. She stretched out her limbs in silence and listened to the rest as they narrated to each other how they had arrived at the forest.

‘I was taken at night, from my family’ recounted Takyi. ‘If the rumours are true, none of us will survive this hunt’.
‘A panin should not speak that way’ she sighed. ‘I’ve heard the rumours too. ‘To satisfy his bloodlust and that of the priests, the chief annually hunts down randomly selected people in a forest from which there is no escape’. ‘ Those who do not die by the arrow perish through hunger and starvation.’

The osuani plucked a berry from a young plant and was about to eat it when Amoawa threw a pebble at it, bursting it. ‘Every fruit here is poisonous which is why some died of hunger’ she warned as she tore off pieces of her dress and began to wrap them around her wounds until half of her body was covered.

‘The stream’s too close to low lying grass. Taking a drink there in the day time would leave one easily exposed. Drinking at night should be done carefully, because of the wolves that hunt at night’.

They looked at her with respect, despite her young age. ‘What is your name, child?’
‘Amoawa Amankwaa (Amankwaa meaning Servant of the people). Today is my 14th birthday and I’m a farmer’.

The next three days were eventful. Annan’s priestess blew a hallucinogenic powder across the grass but the prey held their breath for seven minutes, having been trained to do so by Amoawa the previous night. When the weather became very hot, she waited for the first signs of complacency and impatience among the asafo.

Whenever one of the hunting party strolled off to take a leak or a drink, she stealthily followed them and attacked them from behind. When the injured hunter awoke, they would be missing supplies of food, water and worse weapons. However no matter how far, they extended their search, she was always ahead of them.

At night, she and the others set up traps for the asafo and waited in the trees till the next day when the roving wolves which hunted at night would go to sleep.
Takyiwaa was believed to be older than most of the elders in the village and as old as the chief himself, when they had journeyed from their home to the present location of the village. He had arrived as a young chief and she as his personal bodyguard.

In Safo’s eyes, she was a part of the village’s history and unlike most asafo there, she sought the interests of the villagers. ‘Of the 10 companies in the village, there are only three of them which have no )brafo) or priests, and actually protect the people from harm. We are not the most popular or the most well resourced, but by the time, you’ve completed your training, you will embrace our philosophy of restraint in battle and self-sacrifice.

They both stood in the 8th company’s compound. ‘Choose an akodze’ she said gesturing to an array of varying akodze on a mat and on the walls of the compound.
‘Is there anything you have that isn’t pointed?” Safo asked. ‘Because I promised my father I wouldn’t go around cutting people up like a bloodthirsty savage’

‘Excellent point of view’ she noted. ‘Choose an akodze and I will show you how to defeat any opponent without drawing blood’.

Safo picked up an afena (long sword), took in a deep breath and charged at her, intending to break the afena in her hands. She sidestepped the swing and was about to gently tap him on the shoulder with the tip of her afena, signaling the end of the spar, when he spun around quickly, blocking her blade.
She swung at his afena once, knocking the akodze out of his hands. He spun away from her outstretched foot, which shot out at his chest and snatched his afena in mid-air.
‘Tighten your grip on the afena, Safo. By the end of today, no-one should be able to knock it out of your hands.’

For five days and five nights, they trained until the time came when Safo immersed himself in the dance, between hmiself and the asafoakyer, so deeply that he manipulated each akodze, the same way he manipulated his fingers. She sensed this change when he began to bob and weave between her afena swings and parried all the attacks with her ndar (machete).

She drew out her spear and swung the wooden shaft towards him. Rather than dodge the attack, he shattered it with his palm. He leapt back as she drew out her bow and let off 6 arrows meant to pin him to the compound wall. He slashed three with his afena and snatched the rest in mid-air. He threw the at the bowstring, splitting it.
He dove to her right and drew out the scabbard that was slung at his back at the same time that she drew a dagger from the folds of her wardress. He caught the thrust of the blade between his fingers at the same moment that she blocked the scabbard aimed at her head.

‘Mo (Excellent), Safo of the asafo’
‘You have trained me well, Takyiwaa’
‘It’s late. Wear your battledress and meet me at the elder’s circle for patrols with the rest of the company’.

As they walked through the village, Safo could not shake the feeling that villagers hurriedly stepped aside out of fear of what they might do.

‘People have a reason to fear us, Safo. Last night, Asafo Boadu and his men were creating a ruckus at the market. One of the sellers began to complain and when Boadu was told that she was a gossip, he cut out part of her tongue.’

‘It wasn’t a large part, but the market queen will have a permanent lisp’
Safo was stunned into silence. ‘That’s terrible’.

She sighed. ‘The asafo have done worse things than that. You have to understand that most of the asafo are only interested in patrolling Anna’s part of the village, open to a few of his cronies. They occasionally come here to create a ruckus and then leave, causing most people to fend for themselves’
‘Most turn to a life of crime and sometimes, the victim of a crime later becomes the culprit of another crime.’

As they entered a thick forest at the edge of the village, five bandits sprung out from the bushes. Before the rest of the company could act, Safo slashed through three of their blades, tackling the remaining bandits with low sweeps of his leg. He kicked one in the chest and punched the other in the throat. Takyiwaa struck the three bandits who had their akodze broken with the hilt of her afena.

Five more bandits sprung at him, the foremost throwing a spear which he dodged, clutching it with one hand as it whizzed past him. He flung it to the bandit, pinning him to a tree through his clothes.He drew his spear and twirled it, defending himself from the arrows of the bandits and struck them with short swings of the akodze.
A fourth slashed his spear in half and thrusted an ndar at him, but he sidestepped the attack, striking the bandit on both sides of the head. The fifth bandit dropped his akodze and fled, upon seeing Safo but he tackled him and held him down. The asafo stared hard at the bandit and drew his head back in surprise.

‘What is it, Safo? Takyiwaa asked. ‘Do you know him?’

‘Yes, his name is Odum. He’s a good farmhand at my father’s farm’.
‘The farm is gone, Safo’ confessed Odum. ‘The chief took even more land from the people last night. He increased the daily offerings of golddust and silver to his priestess at the grove. All the other farmhands left earlier. The only reason I’m here is because I’ve nothing left to offer my family.’

After detaining the bandits, Safo scratched his head. ‘He can’t just do this. Maybe he’ll limits change his mind if I speak to him or the elders do’’. Takyiwaa adjusted her scabbard that slung across her back. ‘The chief, according to the priestess, is the bridge between the physical world and the ancestors. His position is divinely appointed hence there are no earthly limits to what he can do’.

‘He has seven large asafo companies to ensure that the people accept his way of doing things…or else. As for speaking to him, he believes the asafo’s duty is only to follow orders and not speak your mind. Ever. Only the elders are allowed to speak to him and just recently, one of them disappeared from his hut, and he’s not listening to the rest. Nkwansrafo are watching their movements daily’

‘So he’s suppressed their counsel and made them mere mouthpieces of his decisions only.’ Safo noted. ‘ It is against the laws of the land to upset the balance of power like that’.

‘What about you? Safo asked.’ You came to this land with him and helped to set up the village so maybe he’ll listen to you’.
‘He won’t.’ The Annan I knew who sought everyone’s wellbeing in the past no longer exists.’ ‘I have a task for you tonight, Safo. Go to Akos, the akodze maker and hurry, her life may be in danger. The 3 companies will take care of your father and the rest of your family.’
Safo sprinted towards Akos’ hut, his mind still reeling from the realization that his father’s source of livelihood was gone. There was a clash of akodze in her compound. Safo quickened his pace and entered the compound to find Boadu and Akos fighting each other. 5 other asafo sprung towards her, ndar raised.

She blocked their attacks with two half formed ndar, even as they forced
her into a corner at his right. Boadu smashed the ndar away and swung down on her head but Safo blocked the strike with his afena. Boadu drew his akofena back. ‘Insect’, he muttered and swung down at Safo but this time, he caught the blade in between his fingers and punched him in the throat.

As Boadu fell on his knees, the other asafo converged on him. He slashed through three of their blades with one swing and blocked the other two with his scabbard, causing it to crack slightly. He swept his left foot into the heads of two asafo and with a low leg sweep, tackled the other two, their heads impacting the akodze strewn floor.

He sidestepped the swings of the other asafo and struck him on the head with the hilt of his afena. Boadu lunged toward him, machetes outstretched. Safo swung his afena once, slashing his machetes, sidestepped his lunge and struck the back of his head with his elbow. He wiped the sweat with his brow and ducked as a glowing afena blade was swung at him.

He raised his hands in surrender, ‘Abrewa Akos, I’m not in Boadu’s company. ‘Asafoakyer Takyiwaa sent me to collect the items’. Akos put down the akodze and pointed to 7 groups of akodze wrapped in red cloth.
‘You can take them to her’ she sighed. Safo wondered why Takyiwaa needed so many akodze and decided to confront her that night.

‘This company has enough akodze, Asafoakyer, so why do you need this many to be kept in your home?’ asked Safo.

‘I’m keeping the akodze here because it’s no longer safe to do so at the Posuban (Akodze store). Boadu and his men don’t come to this part of the village to patrol but to sell stolen akodze to bandits and thieves for a fee. That’s why they tried to kill Akos when she found out that they broke into her home.’
‘Does Annan know about this?” Safo asked.

‘He does now’ she sighed as she looked over his shoulder. Safo turned to see the priestess, standing at the entrance of their hut. ‘Asafo Safo, she said softly, Chief Annan wishes to speak to you’.

Annan swung his akofena at Boadu, slashing him across the chest. Bodu stumbled back, weights attached to his feet rattling loudly across the floor. He lightly swung a stick to block the swing of the akodze but it pierced the stick and stabbed his chest. Annan kicked his chest, sending him sprawling.

Boadu began to crawl on his belly, even as Annan raised his akodze to deliver the deathblow. He stopped as Safo run up to him and prostrated before him. ‘Great Chief Annan, Safo your humble servant pleads with you to spare Boadu’s life.
‘Are you just saying this because you don’t want to see him die here?’ Annan replied. ‘ In that case, my )brafo) can kill him in the execution compound.’ Two )brafo) walked menacingly towards Boadu.

‘Takyiwaa tells me he’s been loyal to you all these years. Perhaps there’s a way he can still serve you?’ Safo insisted.

Annan rubbed his chin in thought. He motioned for six asafo to stand before him. ‘Take him to the mines and make him work day and night, without rest or sleep. If he complains or whines, cut out his tongue. If he sleeps, make it permanent. The asafo bowed before him and dragged Boadu away.

‘Perhaps you would like to take his place, Safo. I need loyal asafo and not thieves. Your company is not in the most pleasant part of the village’.
‘Perhaps when I gain more experience, Great Annan’.

‘Perhaps’. That’s not why I summoned you, though’ smiled Annan. ‘The elders have been very vocal in their disapproval of my style of rule. So all the elders will be sent to the mines near the forest till they see the error of their ways which is why I’m entrusting five companies with this task’.

Later that night, Takyiwaa and Safo exchanged meaningful glances as soon as clouds began to cover the moon. In tow were the elders, their children and wives, bound. The 8TH, 9TH and 10TH companies suddenly stopped moving and brandished their akodze at the remaining two companies.

‘Company 9, we will escort the civilians to Amoawa’s home’ ordered their asafoakyer, Asafoakyer Sarpomaa . Companies 8 and 10 covered their run as Companies 1 and 2 lunged at them. The Supi, distinguished by two large armbands on her arms swung her afonanta (machete like sword) at Takyiwaa, missing her eyes by inches.

Takyiwaa drew out her ndar and swung repeatedly at the Supi, forcing her back. With one swing, Safo slashed through 6 afena, wielded by asafo who still lunged at him. He punched the throats of two asafo and tackled two more with low sweeps of his legs. He kicked the remaining two in the chest and twirled his spear to deflect the arrows shot at him . The remaining asafo of companies 8 and 10 forced the few asafo Safo had not touched back.’

‘Let none of them escape’ warned Safo, knowing that time was needed to tackle the other companies who might be sent to follow up on Annan’s orders. He pushed away an asafo who lunged at Takyiwaa from behind. Together the two fought the Supi, each one attacking from different sides of the head of all the companies.
The Supi sank to her knees, defeated, just like the two companies. She was bound and gagged along with the others.

‘Where do we keep them?”

‘In one of Annan’s special forest prisons’answered Takyiwaa. ‘They’re used whenever the prisons are being rehabilitated. The remaining companies will stay with the chief until he completes his hunt.

‘And how do you know this?’

Takyiwaa stared at the trees around them. ‘You can come out, Yawa.’ A thin dark woman stepped out of the shadows of the forest.’ This is Yawa, the only nkwansrafo I trust in the village’ she explained.

‘Give us your report, Yawa’.

‘Yes, Asafoakyer Takyiwaa’ . ‘Annan is believed to have had no kills in this year’s hunt. As a result, he may even extend it to a few more days before the next Founder’s day’. The other companies may stay put until then’.

She turned her attention to Safo, ‘I’m sorry, Safo, but on the day she trained you, Amoawa was abducted and forced to participate in the hunt.’ Hopefully she may be the reason why Annan has not killed anyone this time. The forest reserve where the hunt takes place is secret, which will mmake tacking her difficult.

‘We will keep the elders in Amoawa’s home for the night. ‘ Takyiwaa decided. When the other companies head to the village square to demand the location of the elders, we will ambush them along the way’.

Whenever Amoawa was alone, she practiced her art of self defense,sharpening her skills to the point that when one )brafo) shot an arrow at a rabbit, she snatched it before it could hit its target. The )brafo) went into the forest to retrieve it and was tackled by Amoawa who held her in a chokehold.

When the )brafo) was unconscious, she dragged her to a nearby stream and lay in wait for a search party.

None arrived. She heard panicked orders ’ the chief has fainted. Get him out of the heat’. She went back to the others, each one fit and capable of self defense. ‘They’re moving the chief and his people out rather early.’ She reported.

‘I’ll need a volunteer to help me find the route they’re taking out of the forest back to the village’

‘I’ll do it’ said the market woman.

In the afternoon, Yawa met the asafo companies lying in ambush for the companies.
‘There’s one company heading towards the market ‘Apparently something’s happened to the chief and they’re going to suppress any rumours about his condition with excessive force.

The 3rd company marched towards the market, with akodze drawn. On seeing Safo and Sarpomaa’s company, they halted only for the three companies to suddenly charge at them at all sides. Safo drew out his spear and struck down several asafo with its blunt edge. Sarpomaa slashed through several asafo blades and spun away from their attacks. When Safo attacked from the left, Sarpomaa attacked from the right and when he attacked those in front, she attacked those behind him. Takyiwaa’s company restrained and kept the company in the bushes.

‘We have taken care of three companies. However four companies remain. Gaining the support of any one of them could determine the outcome of the battle between the companies and us’ Safo observed.