Adinkra (sometimes, andinkra) symbols are the small symbolic pictures used by fabric designers in Ghana to decorate a special colorful patterned cloth . Designs are made by cutting patterns into pieces of calabash gourd, then stamping them on fabric with black ink made from iron oxide pigments. The fabric is woven in varied colors and patterns, and used for funerals, weddings, and other special occasions. Adinkra cloth is not used for everyday purposes because it cannot be washed.
The name Adinkra comes from the legendary King conquered by the Ashante people,who, according to legend, wore luxurious patterned fabrics. Adinkra means “goodbye,” and the special cloth was reserved for funeral garments.
Adinkra fabric is now used for a variety of special occasions, and there are dozens of adinkra symbols used to impart a variety of meanings to the finished cloth. Many symbolize virtues, folk tales and proverbs, animals, and even historical events. Most are very old, having been passed down through generations of craftsmen.
The list below shows some of the more popular symbols and their meanings. Adinkra was not developed as a divination system, but like the Celtic Ogham, it lends itself easily to the purpose.
|defiance, independence, resourcefulness|
Kojo Baiden (rays)
|Gya Nyame||Presence of God, or “God alone” (Not, as some have suggested, “Only God can judge me”)|
|Fihankra, house||Security, safety|
|Osrane ne nsoroma (Ram’s horns)||Wisdom, learning, humility|
|Ohene (king)||Foresight, wisdom|
|Kuntenkanten (arrogance, pride)||Humility and modesty|
|Bin nkabi (None bite another)||Do not seek revenge, avoid conflict|
|Funtunfunafu (crocodiles sharing one stomach)||Need for unity, working together|
|Gyawu (Hair of the hero Kwatakye)||Valor, Respect, leadership|
|Akoko Nan (Chicken’s claw)||Protectiveness, loving discipline|
|Sankofa (return and get it)||Mistakes can be rectified, look to the past for solutions. Sankofa is also depicted as a backwards-looking goose.|
|Duafe (comb)||Feminine virtue, everlasting love|
|Odenkyem (crocodile)||Defense, protection|
|Adwo||Peace, calmness under pressure|
|Akoben (war horn)||Willingness to take charge|
|Nkyinkyim||Endurance, grace under hardship|
|Wawa aba (Wawa seed)||Overcoming barriers, movement, progression|
|Osrane Nsorama (Sun and moon)||Marriage, fidelity, patience|
|Kramobone||One bad makes all look bad|
|Pagya (flint for fire making)||Bravery, striking out|
|Nkontim (hair of the Queen’s servant)||Loyalty, Readiness to serve|
|Owuo Atwedee (ladder)||Fate, inevitabilty|