adinkra Symbols: Religious and Royalty Icons of The Akan PEople
What is Adinkra Symbol?
The Adinkra symbols are one of the ancient philosophical wonders of the Akan people of Ghana. Aside from their magnificent design concepts, they are also latent with unparalleled philosophical thoughts.
These African symbols possess an embellished function with various symbolic representation of ethics, morality, advise, concepts and ideas
Adinkra Symbols and Meanings
Approximately 400 such symbols are known in Ghana. Many of these symbols share a common basic form, and slight variations in the representation may entail a change in the meaning.
History or Origin of Adinkra Symbol
The name “Adinkra” can be traced back to the word “Dinkra” of the Akan/Twi Language, of the Akan people of Ghana. “Dinkra” means: to be separated, taking leave or farewell.
There are different views as to its origin and several theories exist to explain their creation.
One account explains that the first chief priest of the Akan people who lived in the 7th century invoked from the heavens the golden stool, the royal throne which came to symbolize the power of Ashanti kings. On top of the golden stool from the heavens lay a cloth adorned with Adinkra symbols.
In another account, The Akan people who were inhabitants of what is now known as Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were able to develop noteworthy weaving skills by the 16th century with Nsoko, (present-day Begho) being a significant weaving center of that time.
As per a legend among the Akan people of Ghana, the beginning of the 19th century saw a military conflict when Gyamaan king named Nana kofi Adinkra tried to copy the ‘Golden Stool,’ which represent a symbol of power as well as tribal unity of the neighboring Asante nation.
The Gyamaan king was killed and his territory was also seized by the Asante kingdom. The Adinkra robe of the Gyamaan king’s was taken away by the Asante king, Nana Osei Bonsu, in the form of war’s trophy.
They also received the knowledge regarding Adinkra Aduru, ( translated in english as “Adinkra Medicine” which was a special ink used for the printing process). In addition, they also got to know about the process involving the stamping of designs onto the cotton cloth.
Over time the Akan people further developed the Adinkra symbology by integrating their own folk tales, philosophies, and culture.
While Adinkra symbols have been adapted to be used in everyday life on all kinds of objects, they were used in considerably more limited and reverent ways as ceremonial clothing pieces.
Traditionally, Ashanti royalty, spiritual leaders, and other elites wore Adinkra cloth to special occasions, including to funerals as a way to honor the deceased. The Adinkra cloth chosen to be worn to funerals could represent traits the deceased had, evoke sentiments and messages to the deceased, or both.
Only spiritual leaders and royals were able to enjoy this luxury, where a special process was used to hand-craft these one-of-a-kind cloths.
Traditional Adinkra cloths and clothing are stamped with carved calabash (a type of gourd common to Ghana) stamps using a dye made from the badie tree.
AEsthetic value of adinkra symbols
The Adinkra symbols exemplify non-verbal communicative as well as aesthetic values, including the different aspects of life of individuals who designed these symbols.
The vivid colors such as red, white, blue, yellow, etc are used for projecting the celebratory nature of the day.
The dark and dull colors such as black, brick red, brown, etc are used for making ‘Birisi,’ ‘Kuntunkuni,’ and ‘kobene’ clothes. Black color induces aesthetic feeling of sadness as well as hopelessness.
The red color is used for denoting blood as well as death. This is the reason why Kobene is worn by the close family members to portray their grief while others wore different colored clothes. Kobene is also worn during the Asantehene’s funeral or during national calamities.
Uses of Adinkra Symbols
Today, Adinkra symbols are widely used not only throughout present-day Ghana, but around the world. Adinkra symbols can be found on clothing, fabric, furniture, jewelry, art, decorations, and even Superhero movies.
Adinkra Symbols have been spotted in Superhero movies like;
The Black Panther: Adinkra Symbol – WAWA ABA. “Seed of the Wawa tree”
Avengers: Age of Ultron:
Symbol – TAMFO BEBRE, “The Enemy will stew in his own Juice”
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Adinkra Symbol – NKYINKYIM , “Twisting”
In the Television show Taboo, a Sankofa bird part of the adinkra symbol collection was carved into a slave ship floor by James Keziah Delaney. The Sankofa Symbol was also tattooed on his upper back.
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celebrities wearing adinkra symbols apparel
Adinkra symbols are beautiful personification of life meanings. With the advent of time, these Adinkra symbols have gained much popularity.
In the past, these symbols were only used for clothes, sculptures, pottery, etc, and were limited to only a particular sect of society. However, nowadays, everyone is taking advantage of these mesmerizing symbols. Even the celebrities have not remained untouched by the charm of these Adinkra symbols.
Bob Marley, who was a renowned songwriter-singer of international fame was seen wearing a shirt decorated with Adinkra symbol ‘Gye Nyame’ which says Except God, I fear none.
Another famous celebrity who has been a fan of Adinkra symbols is NAS rapper who is a New York based rapper. His love for Adinkra symbols is great and he boldly wears this passion everywhere.
American rapper Bow wow has also been seen wearing t-shirts designed with Ghanian Adinkra symbols. His one famous picture portrays him wearing a t-shirt with Adinkra symbol ‘Gye Nyame.’ This symbol stands for ‘Except God’ and is widely used Akan symbol.
Adinkra symbols are no doubt a traditional wonder which is unmatchable.
While the widespread usage of Adinkra symbols is growing beyond the realms of religious icons and royalty, the symbols in their purest form are still surrounded by significant meaning by the people that use and adore them.
These symbols when used by both men and women alike, holds deep significance with underlying philosophies.
Although the symbols were created many generations back, the meaning of Ghanaian Adinkra Symbols has never died.
The significance is still very much alive to this day, and the widespread love for its power can be seen in every corner of the globe.