Across much of West Africa practitioners of local medical traditions wore garments that set them apart from the realm of the everyday. Often, as here among the Akan peoples of Ghana, so-called “fetish men” wore robes and hats loaded with powerful charms and medicines. Some of these were packets containing inscriptions from the Koran obtained from Muslim scholars, while others were more locally inspired, drawing on a knowledge of leaves, powders, animal body parts etcetera. These robes protected the practitioners who spent time in the dangerous forest world of the spirits, guarded them against attack by rivals, and incidentally advertised their power to potential customers. Related garments were worn by hunters, warriors, and in certain contexts, chiefs, serving a similar protective role. The Asante name for these charm loaded robes was “batakari” or “war shirts”. There were of course “fetish women” as well as “fetish men” and I will post some images of them in a subsequent note.
Vintage postcards, author’s collection. Top: circa 1900, publisher unknown. Below: circa 1890, Basel Mission.