Adinkra Symbols

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Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d'Ivoire in West Afrika that represent concepts or original thoughts. Adinkra are used on fabric, walls, in pottery, woodcarvings and logos. Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing. They also can be used to communicate evocative messages that represent parts of their life or those around them.

History

One version of Adinkra history starts it in the early nineteenth century. There was a war between two kings. Adinkera, king of Gyaman (now La cote d'Ivoire), attempted to copy the designs of the sacred Golden Stool. The Golden Stool was the unifying force of the Asante Nation. This sacrilegious attempt angered the Asantehene, the Ashanti king Nana Osei Bonsu-Panyin. In the war, Adinkera was defeated and killed. The cloth that King Adinkera wore in battle was taken by the Asante as a trophy. With the cloth, the Asante brought with them the art of stamping cloth.

In Afrika a great deal of philosophical material is embedded in the proverbs, myth, and folk-tales, folksongs, rituals, beliefs, customs, and traditions of the people.

Adinkra means goodbye. Originally, the cloth was worn only by the royalty and spiritual leaders for mourning during funeral services. It can now be worn by anyone for any occasion. The symbols and their meanings are still used to convey a message.

Adinkera aduru (Adinkera medicine) is the stuff used in the stamping process. It is prepared by boiling the bark of Badie together with iron slag. Originally the printing was done on a cotton piece lying on the ground. Today, raised platforms with sack coverings act as the printing table. The designs, cut on pieces of calabash with pieces of wood attached for handling, are dipped into the Adinkera aduru, then stamped onto the cloth. Adinkera cloth is not meant to be washed. [1]


Symbols[2]

ADINKRAHENE

Chief of the Adinkra Symbols

Symbol of greatness, charisma and leadership

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.






AKOBEN

The War Horn

Symbol of vigilance and wariness

Akoben is a horn used to sound a battle cry.











AKOFENA

Sword of War

Symbol of courage, valor, and heroism

The crossed swords were a popular motif in the heraldic shields of many former Akan states. In addition to recognizing courage and valor, the swords can represent legitimate state authority.




AKOKO NAN

The Leg of a Hen

Symbol of nurturing and discipline

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.






AKOMA

The Heart

Symbol of patience and tolerance

According to Agbo, when a person is said to "have a heart in his stomach," that person is very tolerant.






AKOMA NTOSO

Linked Hearts

Symbol of understanding and agreement








ANANSE NTONTAN

Spider's Web

Symbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life

Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African folktales.






ASASE YE DURU

The Earth Has Weight

Symbol of providence and the divinity of Mother Earth

This symbol represents the importance of the Earth in sustaining life.












AYA

Fern

symbol of endurance and resourcefulness

The fern is a hardy plant that can grow in difficult places. "An individual who wears this symbol suggests that he has endured many adversities and outlasted much difficulty."








BESE SAKA

Sack of Cola Nuts

symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity

The cola nut played an important role in the economic life of Ghana. A widely-used cash crop, it is closely associated with affluence and abundance. This symbol also represents the role of agriculture and trade in bringing peoples together.





BI NKA BI

No one should bite the other

symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity symbol of peace and harmony

This symbol cautions against provocation and strife. The image is based on two fish biting each other tails.





BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO

Help me and let me help you

symbol of cooperation and interdependence













DAME-DAME

Board Game

symbol of intelligence and ingenuity










DENKYEM

Crocodile

symbol of adaptability

The crocodile lives in the water, yet breathes the air, demonstrating an ability to adapt to circumstances.






DUAFE

Wooden Comb

symbol of beauty and cleanliness; symbols of desirable feminine qualities

The meaning of this symbol is characterized slightly differently in "The Adinkra Dictionary" and "The Values of Adinkra Symbols"; the former emphasizes more abstract qualities of feminine goodness, love and care, while the latter has a more literal interpretation, looking one's best and good hygiene. In any case, the duafe was a prized possession of the Akan woman, used to comb and plait her hair.




DWENNIMMEN

Ram's Horns

symbol of humility together with strength

The ram will fight fiercely against an adversary, but it also submits humbly to slaughter, emphasizing that even the strong need to be humble.






EBAN

Fence

symbol of love, safety and security

The home to the Akan is a special place. A home which has a fence around it is considered to be an ideal residence.

The fence symbolically separates and secures the family from the outside. Because of the security and the protection that a fence affords, the symbol is also associated with the security and safety one finds in love.




EPA

Handcuffs

symbol of law and justice, slavery and captivity

Adolph Agbo, in "Values of Adinkra Symbols" notes that handcuffs were introduced in Africa as a result of the slave trade, and later became popular among chiefs in cuffing offenders of the law. "The symbol reminds offenders of the uncompromising nature of the law. It however discourages all forms of slavery."


ESE NE TEKREMA

The Teeth and the Tongue

symbol of friendship and interdependence

The teeth and the tongue play interdependent roles in the mouth. They may come into conflict, but they need to work together.








FAWOHODIE

Independence

symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation

"From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation: "Independence comes with its responsibilities."





FIHANKRA

House/Compound

symbol of security and safety

Typical of Akan (Asante) architecture, the communal housing compound has only one entrance and exit.







FOFO

Yellow Flowered Plant

symbol of jealousy and envy

"When the fofo's petals drop, they turn into black spiky-like seeds. The Akan liken the nature of this plant to a jealous person." - The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis

There is a Akan proverb associated with this symbol: "What the fofo plant wishes is that the gyinantwi seeds turn black."





FUNTUNFUNEFU DENKYEMFUNEFU

Siamese Crocodiles

symbol of democracy and unity

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.






GYE NYAME

No God but God

symbol of the supremacy of God

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 people









HWE MU DUA

Measuring Stick

symbol of examination and quality control

This symbol stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in production of goods or in human endeavors.







HYE WON HYE

That Which Does Not Burn

symbol of imperishability and endurance

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 overcome difficulties.







KETE PA

Good Bed

symbol of a good marriage

From the expression that a woman who has a good marriage is said to sleep on a good bed.







KINTINKANTAN

Puffed Up Extravagance

Symbol of Arrogance











KWATAKYE ATIKO

Hair Style of an Asante War Captain

symbol of bravery and valor

"This symbols is said to be a special hair style of Kwatakye, a war captain of old Asante.

The symbol has come to represent bravery and fearlessness. It is also given as an earned title to any brave son of an Akan community."




MATE MASIE

What I Hear, I Keep

symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence

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.







ME WARE WO

I Shall Marry You

symbol of commitment, perseverance

From the expression "No one rushes into the job of mixing the concrete for building the house of marriage."







MFRAMADAN

Wind-Resistant House

symbol of fortitude and readiness to face life's vicissitudes

"This symbol suggests a reinforced or well-built home -- one built to withstand windy and treacherous conditions. It reflects in Asante history a clause in the unwritten constitutution of the Golden Stool. Oral acocunts say that according to that clause, mud houses in Kumasi must be reinforced with turf. This reinforcing would cause the house to be sturdier and resistant to unfavorable weather conditions."



MMERE DANE

Time Changes

symbol of change, life's dynamics









MMUSUYIDEE

That Which Removes Bad Luck

symbol of good furtune and sanctity









MPATAPO

Knot of Pacification/Reconciliation

symbol of reconciliation, peacemaking and pacification

Mpatapo represents the bond or knot that binds parties in a dispute to a peaceful, harmonious reconciliation. It is a symbol of peacemaking after strife.







MPUANNUM

Five Tufts of hair

symbol of priestly office, loyalty and adroitness

"This symbol is said to be the hairstyle of joy. It is the traditional hairstyle of the priestesses. ... The design of the adinkra symbol mpuannum resembles the way the priestesses' hair was tied. ...

It also represents the devotion and faithfulness one displays when doing a task required of one. In addition, mpuannum means loyalty or the embodiment of lofty duty to a desired goal."




NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU

He Who Does Not Know Can Know From Learning

symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge








NEA OPE SE OBEDI HENE

He Who Wants to Be King

symbol of service and leadership

From the expression "Nea ope se obedi hene daakye no, firi ase sue som ansa" meaning "He who wants to be king in the future must first learn to serve."






NKONSONKONSON

CHAIN LINK

symbol of unity and human relations

A reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength









NYAME DUA

TREE of GOD - ALTER

symbol of God's presence and protection

The Nyame Dua is a sacred spot where rituals are performed. Erected in front of the house or compound, it is crafted from a tree that has been cut where three or more branches come together. This stake holds an earthenware vessell filled with water and herbs or other symbolic materials for purification and blessing rituals.




NKYIMU

The CROSSED DIVISIONS MADE ON ADINKRA CLOTH BEFORE STAMPING

symbol of skillfulness, precision

Before adinkra cloth is stamped with the symbols, the artisan blocks off the cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a broad-tooth comb. This preparation is symbolic of the exacting technique which results in the highest quality product.





NKYINKYIM

TWISTING

symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility










NSAA

A TYPE of HAND-WOVEN FABRIC

symbol of excellence, genuineness, authenticity

According to "The Adinkra Dictionary" by W. Bruce Willis, the nsaa symbols reflects a saying: "nea onnim nsaa oto n'ago", which he translates as "He who does not know authentic Nsaa will buy the fakes."

The quality of Nsaa has come to represent quality of workmanship in general.





NSOROMMA

CHILD of the HEAVENS [STARS]

symbol of guardianship

A reminder that God is the father and watches over all people.








NYAME BIRIBI WO SORO

GOD is in the HEAVENS

symbol of hope

A reminder that God's dwelling place is in the heaven, where he can listen to all








NYAME NNWU NA MAWU

GOD NEVER DIES, THEREFORE I CANNOT DIE

symbol of God's omnipresence and the perpetual existence of man's spirit

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 die.







NYAME NTI

BY GOD'S GRACE

symbol of faith and trust in God

similar to Gye Nyame According to The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis: "This stalk is depicted as the staff of life in many cultures. It symbolizes to the Akan that food is a basis of life and that they could not survive if not for the food that God has placed here on Earth for their nourishment. "









NYAME YE OHENE

GOD is KING

symbol of majesty and supremacy of God









NYANSAPO

WISDOM KNOT

symbol of wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience

An especially revered symbol of the Akan, this symbol conveys the idea that "a wise person has the capacity to choose the best meeans to attain a goal. Being wise implies broad knowledge, learning and experience, and the ability to apply such faculties to practical ends."














ODO NNYEW FIE KWAN

LOVE NEVER LOSES its WAY HOME

symbol of the power of love












OKODEE MMOWERE

The TALONS of the EAGLE

symbol of strength, bravery, power

The eagle is the mightiest bird in the sky, and its strength is concentrated in its talons. The Oyoko clan, one of the nine Akan clans, uses this symbol as their clan emblem.












ONYANKOPON ADOM NTI BIRIBIARA BEYE YIE

BY GOD'S GRACE, ALL WILL be WELL

symbol of hope, providence, faith










OSRAM NE NSOROMMA

THE MOON and the STAR

symbol of love, faithfulness, harmony

This symbol reflects the harmony that exists in the bonding between a man and a woman.

Proverb: "Kyekye pe aware." (The North Star has a deep llove for marriage. She is always in the sky waiting for the return of the moon, her husband.)




OWO FORO ADOBE

SNAKE CLIMBING the RAFFIA TREE

symbol of steadfastness, prudence and diligence

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 prudence.


OWUO ATWEDEE

THE LADDER of DEATH

symbol of mortality

a reminder of the transitory nature of existence in this world and of the imperative to live a good life to be a worthy soul in the afterlife











PEMPAMSIE

SEW in READINESS

symbol of readiness, steadfastness, hardiness

According to the The Adinkra Dictionary, the design of this symbol resembles the links of a chain, and implies strength through unity as well as the importance of being prepared.







SANKOFA
SANKOFA 2

RETURN and GET IT

symbol of importance of learning from the past













SESA WO SUBAN

CHANGE or TRANSFORM CHARACTER

symbol of life transformation

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.






TAMFO BEBRE

THE ENEMY WILL STEW in HIS OWN JUICE

symbol of jealousy and envy









WAWA ABA

SEED of THE WAWA TREE

symbol of hardiness, toughness and perseverance

The seed of the wawa tree is extremely hard. In Akan culture, it is a symbol of someone who is strong and tough. It inspires the individual to persevere through hardship.





WOFORO DUA PA A

WHEN YOU CLIMB a GOOD TREE

symbol of support, cooperation and encouragement

From the expression "Woforo dua pa a, na yepia wo" meaning "When you climb a good tree, you are given a push". More metaphorically, it means that when you work for a good cause, you will get support.



WO NSA DA MU A

IF YOUR HANDS ARE in the DISH

symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism

From the aphorism, "Wo nsa da mu a, wonni nnya wo" -- "If your hands are in the dish, people do not eat everything and leave you nothing."





Refrences

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