Adinkra Symbols

Adinkra symbols are visual representations of philosophical concepts, historical events, proverbs and aphorisms. Adinkra symbols are decorative symbols that are used widely among the Ashantis of Ashanti Kingdom and the Baoulés of Cote d’Ivoire. Adinkra symbols are believed to have originated in the kingdom of Gyamaan in Cote d’Ivoire. According to an Ashanti legend, the Ashantis defeated and captured the King of Gyaman called Nana Adinkra in battle and brought him to Kumasi. Nana Adinkra wore cloth decorated with Adinkra symbols when he was being taken to Kumasi in expression of his sorrow. The Gyaman kingdom was eventually annexed by the Ashanti empire. Sometime in the 19th century, the Ashantis started printing the Gyaman symbols on their cloth.

Adinkra means “farewell” in Twi. Traditionally, cloths printed with Ashanti symbols were worn at funerals. Furthermore, they were mainly worn by royalty or by spiritual leaders in the community. Today, Adinkra cloths are worn by anybody on many different occasions. Apart from the traditional Adinkra cloths, adinkra symbols are also printed on T-shirts, dresses, and souvenirs. Further, Adinkra symbols are used in decorating pottery, walls and buildings.

The Ashantis developed a technique to print Adinkra cloth. The cloth is dyed red using a chemical called Sudi or black using kuntunkuni roots. Calabash or gourd (apakyiwa) is carved and covered in a dye called adinkra aduru. The hand carved calabash stamps are then used to print on the cloth. Today, Ntonso, a town in the Ashanti Region is noted for Adinkra cloth production.

By Iyeyinka Kusi-Mensah

(Image: Ghana Institute of Journalism; Misbeee; Codecliq)

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