History Of Adinkra & Symbols

History Of Adinkra

Adinkra Symbolism: Tradition has it that Adinkera, a famous King of Gyaman (now the Ivory Coast) angered the Asantehene, Bonsu-Panyin, by trying to copy the Golden Stool. Adinkera was defeated and slain in an ensuing war. It has been suggested that the art of Adinkera came from Gyaman. It is also significant that Adinkera means farewell, or good-bye, hence the use of the special cloth on funeral occasions (eyie), to say good-bye to the departed.
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.

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, churchgoing, 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 people of Ghana and Cote’ d’lvoire.
Below are some of the 80 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 people), 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. Symbols not featured here are on the Adinkra poster which you can purchase. Ordering info is at the end of the home page.




Adinkra Symbols

Gye Nyame (except God). Symbol of the Omnipotence and immortality of God.

Funtunfunafu denkyem funafu won afuru bom nso worididi a na wo ko. Sharing one stomach yet they fight over food.

Odenkyem (crocodile) da nsuo mu nso ohome nsuo ne mframa. The crocodile lives in the water yet it breathes air, not water.

Bi-nka-bi. Obi nka obi (bite not one another). Avoid conflicts. Symbol of Unity.

Osrane (moon). Osrane nnfiti preko ntware man. It takes the moon sometime to go round the nation.

Kramo-bone amma yanhu kramo-pa. We cannot tell a good mohammedan from a bad one. The fake and the genuine look alike because of hypocrisy.

Nsaa (a kind of blanket). Nea onim nsaa na oto nago.

Fofoo se die fofoo pe ne se gyinantwi abo bedie. What the fofoo plant wants is that the gyinantwi seeds should turn black. Symbol of jealousy.

Adinkra hene (Adinkra King). Chief of all the Adinkra designs. Forms the basis of Adinkera printing.

Dwanimen (Ram’s horn). Dwonnin ye asise a ode n’akorana na ennye ne mben. It is the heart and not the horns that leads a ram to bully. Concealment.

Mpuannum (Nkontimsofo o Puaa). Five tufts of hair. A traditionally fashionable hair style.

Hye wo nyhe (the one who burns you be not burned). Symbol of forgiveness. Turn the other cheek.

Nkonsonkonso (link or chain). We are linked in both life and death.Those who share common blood relations never break apart. Symbol of human relations.

Owuo Atwedie Baako Nfo (obiara bewu). All men climb the ladder of death.

Sepow (knife used in executions). This is thrust through the victims’s cheeks to prevent his invoking a curse on the King.

Gyamu atiko. This is said to be the design shaved by Gyawu, a once Bantamahene.




Sankofa (return and fetch it). Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi. It is no taboo to return and fetch it when you forget. You can always undo your mistakes.

Nhwimu (crossing). The divisions done on to the plain cloth before the stamping is done.

Keerapa (Musu yide). Good fortune sanctity. Kerapa te se okera. Okyiri fi. Sanctity like a cat. Abhors filth. Symbol of sanctity and good fortune.

Fihankra (the circular house of complete house). This signifies safety or security in a home.

Nyame nwu na mawu. If Nyame (God) dies, then I may die. Perpetual existence.

Ohene niwa (in the King’s eye). The King has lots of eyes and nothing is hidden from him.

Akoma (the heart). Nya akoma (take heart). Have patience. Symbol of patience and endurance.

Biribi wo soro. Nyame biribi wo soro na ma embeka mensa. God there is something in the heavens, let it reach me. A symbol of hope.

Nsoroma (a child of the heavens). Obu Nyankon soroma te Nyame na onte neho so. A child of the Supremem Being I do not depend on myself. My illumination is only a reflection of his.

Krado – mmra krado (Seal of law and order). Symbolising the authority of the court.

Kode mower ewa (the talons of the eagle). This is said to be shaved on the heads of some court attendants.

Aya (the firn). This word also means I am not afraid of you. A symbol of defiance.

Osrane ne nsoroma (moon and star). A symbol of faithfulness.
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Nyame dua (an altar to the sky God). Altar, place of worship.

Mframa-dan (wind house). House built to stand windy and treacherous conditions.

Aban (fence). Representing fenced homes. A protector. Double security. Safe and sound. Fool proof.

Anibere a enso gya, nka mani abere koo. Seriousness does not show fiery eyes else you will see my face all red.