Adinkra is one of the highly valued hand-printed and
hand-embroidered cloths. Its origin is traced to the Asante people
of Ghana and the Gyaman people of Cote' d'lvoire (Ivory Coast).
However, the production and use of Adinkra have come to be more
associated with the Asante people than any other group of people.
Around the 19th Century, the Asante people developed their unique
art of adinkra printing. Adinkra cloths were made and used
exclusively by the royalty and spiritual leaders for very important
sacred ceremonies and rituals.
In modern times, however, adinkra cloths are used for a wide
range of social activities. In addition to its sacred usage, it is
also used to make clothing for such special occasions as festivals,
church-going, weddings, naming ceremonies and initiation rites.
Today, designers use adinkra symbols in creating a wide range of
products including clothing accessories, interior decoration,
packages and book covers.
Each of the motifs that make up the corpus of adinkra symbolism
has a name and meaning derived either from a proverb, a historical
event, human attitude, animal behavior, plant life, forms and shapes
of inanimate and man-made objects. These are graphically rendered in
stylized geometric shapes. Meanings of motifs may be categorized as
follows: Aesthetics, Ethics, Human Relations and Religious concepts.
In its totality, adinkra symbolism is a visual representation of
social thought relating to the history, philosophy and religious
beliefs of the Akan peoples of Ghana and Cote' d'lvoire.
Below are some of the most commonly used symbols, their names,
sources of derivation, their literal translations and their symbolic
meanings. Names and meanings of the symbols are presented in Twi
(the language of the Akan peoples), and translated into English.
Symbols are grouped according to the sources of derivation, namely:
Creatures. (Animals, Birds and Insects), Celestial Bodies, The Human
Body, Man-made objects, Non-figurative shapes and Plant life.
Main symbols featured here:-
||AKOBEN (war horn -
symbol of vigilance and wariness ) |
Akoben is a horn used
to sound a battle cry.
||TAMFOA BEBRE (the
enemy will stew in his own juice)|
symbol of importance of
learning from the past
||SESA WORUBAN (I
change or transform my life)|
This symbol combines two
separate adinkra symbols, the "Morning Star" which can mean a
new start to the day, placed inside the wheel, representing
rotation or independent movement.
and get it)|
symbol of importance of learning from the
||WOW FORO ADOBE
(snake climbing the raffia tree)|
Because of its thorns, the
raffia tree is a very dangerous challenge to the snake. His
ability to climb it is a model of persistence and
||ODO NNYEW FIE KWAN
(love never loses its way home)|
symbol of the power of love
||NYAME NNWU NA MAWU
(God never dies, therefore I cannot die)|
This signifies the
immortality of man's soul, believed to be a part of God.
Because the soul rests with God after death, it cannot
||NYAME BIRIBI WO
SORO (God is in the heavens)|
A reminder that God's dwelling
place is in the heaven, where he can listen to all
||NSOROMMA (child of
A reminder that God is the father and watches
over all people.
symbol of initiative, dynamism and
A reminder to contribute to the community,
that in unity lies strength
which removes bad luck)|
symbol of good furtune and
||MATE MASIE (what I
hear, I keep)|
The implied meaning of the phrase "mate
masie" is "I understand". Understanding means wisdom and
knowledge, but it also represents the prudence of taking into
consideration what another person has said.
(puffed up extravagance)|
||HYE WON HYE (that
which cannot be burnt)|
This symbol gets its meaning from
traditional priests that were able to walk on fire without
burning their feet, an inspiration to others to endure and
This symbol stresses the need to strive
for the best quality, whether in production of goods or in
||GYE NYAME (except
This unique and beautiful symbol is ubiquitous in
Ghana. It is by far the most popular for use in decoration, a
reflection on the deeply religious character of the Ghanaian
DENKYEMFUNEFU (siamese crocodiles)|
The Siamese crocodiles
share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular
symbol is a remind that infighting and tribalism is harmful to
all who engage in it.
Typical of Akan (Asante) architecture, the
communal housing compound has only one entrance and
||ESE NE TEKREMA
t(he teeth and the tongue) |
The teeth and the tongue play
interdependent roles in the mouth. They may come into
conflict, but they need to work together.
symbol of slavery and captivity
The crocodile lives in the water, yet breathes
the air, demonstrating an ability to adapt to
||DAME-DAME (name of
a board game)|
symbol of intelligence and ingenuity
||BIN NKA BI (no one
should bite the other)|
This symbol cautions against
provocation and strife.
||AKOMA NTOSO (inked
symbol of understanding and agreement
||AKOMA (the heart )
Patience & tolerance. According to Agbo, when a person
is said to "have a heart in his stomach," that person is very
||AKOKONAN (the leg
of a hen)|
The full name of this
symbol translates to "The hen treads on her chicks, but she
does not kill them." This represents the ideal nature of
parents, being both protective and corrective. An exhortation
to nurture children, but a warning not to pamper them
of adinkra symbols)|
This symbol is said to have played an
inspiring role in the designing of other symbols. it signifies
the importance of playing a leadership role.