What is Sankofa?

Among the continents of the world, Africa stands out as one deeply rooted and rich in cultural heritage, beliefs and languages.

The Sankofa symbol stems from one of such languages which is the Twi language of  the Akan people of Ghana.

This article seeks to comprehensively lay out the meaning of the Sankofa symbol, the types of the symbol, the origin of the symbol and it's accompanying uses.

 

 

The meaning of the Sankofa Symbol

The Sankofa translated from the Twi language to English means to return and get it. SAN translates to return, KO Translates to Go, FA translates to Look, seek and take.

 

It is also used in connection to the Adinkra symbol which is depicted by a bird flying with its head facing backward, a precious egg held by its beak and its legs facing forward or a stylized heart.

(RELATED ARTICLE: Adinkra Symbols and Meaning)

SANKOFA BIRD

 

SANKOFA HEART

sankofa heart

 

 

Sankofa is often expressed in the Akan language as sewo were fi nawosankofa a yenki. Which means it is not an abomination to return and take what you forgot.

In line with the Sankofa symbol and the illustrated bird depiction, the Sankofa teaches that to record successes and move forward, we have to return to our roots.

In other words, Sankofa translates to gathering good lessons learned in our past and using them to achieve future goals.

The Sankofa bird symbol also subtly illustrates the importance of family as most of the lessons that form the bedrock of a man's life are learned at home or among a group of people that are regarded as family.

 

The Origin Of The Sankofa Symbol

The Sankofa symbol is one of the popular symbols of the collection of Adinkra Symbols ascribed to the Akan people of Ghana. This symbol mythically illustrates the importance of past lessons in shaping the future.

As the Akan proverb states, se wo were fi nawosankofa a yenki. “it is not an abomination to go to your roots and take what you forgot”.

It teaches that whatever we have forgone, lost, been stripped of or forgotten can be revived, reclaimed, preserved and caused to prevail.

The Two Types Of Sankofa Symbol (Bird & Stylized Heart)

The Sankofa symbol is portrayed visually and symbolically using two images these Adinkra symbols are shown as a mythical bird that has its head turned back, a valuable egg (the future) within its mouth and its legs firmly facing forward as it flies and a stylized heart.

Each of these symbols serves to show the relevance of lessons learned in the past and how these lessons are useful for future achievements and developments.  

The Akans are of the view that new learning and movement must be recorded as time goes by. As this learning and movements go on, the past must stay relevant.

 

 Uses of the Sankofa Symbol

For a symbol that has such deep cultural meanings and values, it is only expected that it should be used across a variety of things.

The Sankofa symbol is used as a tattoo, necklace, and various art forms. For art forms, the Sankofa heart symbol is at times introduced as a design in Akan stools and carved on iron gates. Such carvings on iron gates is frequently seen in places such as Ghana and the United States, especially New York City.

A Sankofa bird was also carved into a slave ship floor by James Keziah Delaney in the television show Taboo. James Keziah also has the same bird tattooed on his upper back.

 

How would you use the Sankofa Symbol of the Akan people of Ghana?

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References:

https://www.berea.edu/cgwc/the-power-of-sankofa/

https://www.uis.edu/africanamericanstudies/students/sankofa/

http://www.africanbookscollective.com/publishers/sankofa-educucational-publishers