Adinkra symbols explained: Meaning, origin, style, spiritual significance
Adinkra symbols decorate textiles, logos, metalwork, pottery, and architectural elements. Kwadwo Adinkra (the King of Gyaaman) invented them. The Asante craftsmen of West Africa designed and named the symbols after him. This article explains the origin and meanings of Adinkra symbols and their names in Twi.
The kingdom of Gyaaman was a medieval Akan people state in the first half of the 17th century. The Bono people (a branch of the Akan) established it in the northwest of the Asante region (most of Ghana and parts of Togo and the Ivory Coast). Adinkra symbols were for the royals and people of high status in the kingdom.
Where do Adinkra symbols come from?
Adinkra are Ghanaian symbols from the Akan people of Ghana, precisely the Bono community. Each sign has a spiritual significance and embodies the aesthetic values and the way of life of the people of the kingdom of Gyaaman.
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Akan is the largest ethnic group in Ghana. It has 12 tribes; the Bono, Adanse, Asante, Twifo, Fante, Asen, Akuapem, Akwamu, Kwahu, Awowin, Sehwi, Akyem, Nzima, and Ahanta.
Kwadwo Adinkra was among West Africa's most powerful rulers of the 18th century. Adinkra symbols spread from Bono Gyaaman to Asante and other Akan Kingdoms after the kingdom of Gyaaman collapsed.
What does the word Adinkra mean?
Adinkra means "goodbye" or "farewell" in Asante Twi. At one point, Adinkra symbols and clothes were only worn and displayed during funerals to signify sorrow and bid farewell to the deceased. Today, Adinkra symbols are widely used in textiles, logos, pottery, metalwork, and architectural elements.
What are the names of Adinkra symbols?
The people resisted British colonial rule in West Africa. Rejecting the Western influence might have been one of the main reasons their symbolism and cultural traditions exist today. There are about 122 known Adinkra symbols. Here are images of some Adinkra symbols and their meanings:
1. Aban - Strength, power, and authority
Aban is an Akan word meaning "fortress" or "castle." The stands for power, authority, and magnificence. It is a sign of strength in the Akan community.
2. Adwo - Peace and calmness
Having a sense of peace and tranquillity within you helps decrease the impact of the turmoil on the outside, even amid obstacles and hardships.
Peace of mind is essential, and you can obtain it by remaining calm and relaxed during difficult situations. Adwo is a word that means "quiet." It is a sign of tranquillity, peace, and quiet.
3. Adinkrahene (Chieftain of Adinkra symbols) - Leadership
Adinkrahene is an African symbol of leadership, superiority, and captivation. It has played a critical role in designing other signs. It shows how essential leadership is in any community. Most great leaders are charismatic; therefore, this symbol denotes the honorable features of a good leader.
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4. Agyindawuru - Loyalty, vigilance, and accountability
Agyin's gong is a symbol of loyalty, attention, and responsibility. The Agyindawuru symbol was designed to honor the faithfulness of Agyin (Asantehene's diligent servant and gong-beater).
5. Akoben - Vigilance and carefulness
Akoben translates as "battle horn." It represents being ready to make sacrifices for the people you love and what you believe in. The symbol inspired the ancient Akan people to volunteer for war and defend themselves from other kingdoms.
6. Akofena - Courage and heroism
Akofena means "battle sword" and refers to the Akan kingdom's ceremonial swords. The Akofena symbolizes government power, legality, a ruler's legitimized authority, bravery, and heroic actions.
7. Akoma Ntoaso - Unity, understanding, and agreement
Akoma Ntoaso translates as "the merging of hearts." It may also refer to "joined hearts." It symbolizes agreement, oneness, unity, or a charter, an extension of the Akoma notion.
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8. Akoma - Patience and tolerance
Akoma is a symbol of endurance and understanding from the Asante people of modern-day Ghana, and it can be identified as the modern-day standard heart. It denotes love, unity, perseverance, patience, altruism, and dedication.
Its literal meaning is "the heart." It also represents forbearance in the face of adversity and emphasizes the importance of patience. Akoma symbolizes love, benevolence, patience, constancy, tenderness, perseverance, and consistency.
9. Ani Bere A Enso Gya ring - Self-discipline
Ani Bere A Enso Gya is an Akan adage, "No matter how red-eyed one grows (i.e., how serious one becomes), his eyes do not kindle fires." It represents patience, self-control, and self-discipline.
10. Ananse Ntontan (Spider’s web) - Complexities of life
Ananse Ntontan is a symbol of creativity, the complexities of life, and wisdom. Creativity is the creation of something new and different. Understanding relates to knowledge, experience, and reasonable judgment in decision-making and taking necessary actions.
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11. Asase Ye Duru (Earth has mass) - The divinity of Mother Earth
Asase Ye Duru represents the divinity and the providence of Mother Earth. The symbol promotes the Earth's importance in sustaining life. Therefore, people should not act in a way that will harm the Earth.
12. Aya (Fern) - Endurance, tolerance, and willpower
This symbol depicts endurance, patience, and willpower. The fern is a robust plant that grows in harsh climatic conditions. Those who wear this symbol imply they have endured many difficulties in life.
13. Abe Dua (palm tree) - Wealth and resourcefulness
Abe Dua means palm tree and a palm tree symbolizes wealth, self-sufficiency, and resourcefulness. People get oil, brooms, wood, roofing materials, and wine from it.
14. Akoko Nan (a hen’s leg) - The caring nature of parents
Akoko Nan is one of the Adinkra symbols that represents discipline and caring. As the name suggests, a hen tramps on its chick but can not kill them. In addition, the emblem portrays the protective and caring nature of parents.
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15. Bese Saka (a bag of cola nuts) - Abundance
Bese Saka represents power, togetherness, plenty, abundance, unity, and affluence. The cola nut is a cash crop that played a vital role in the economic life of Ghana. It shows the position of trade and Agriculture in bringing people together.
16. Bi Nka Bi (no one should bite the other) - Togetherness
Bi Nka Bi represents peace and unity. The image is based on two fish locking on each other's tails. The sign means that people should watch out against devious acts that provoke civil strife.
17. Dame Dame - Intelligence, innovation, and strategy
Dame Dame is the name of a board game played in Ghana. It represents intelligence, innovation, and strategy. The two players start with 14 pawns neatly arranged on one end of the board in Dame Dame. Since the game demands focus and intelligence, the symbol represents creativity when playing Dame Dame.
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18. Denkyem (crocodile) - Versatility and adapting to conditions
Denkyem is a symbol of versatility. It shows the ability of a crocodile to survive inside and outside water for a long time. Hence, Denkyem demonstrates the capability of adapting to the prevailing conditions.
19. Dono Ntoaso - Kindness
Dono Ntoaso translates as "Dono extension" or "the double Dono. " These means two drums connected from the top. Dono Ntoaso represents unity, awareness, kindness, praise, rejoicing, and ability.
20. Dono - Goodwill
Dono is a tensile talking drum with animal hide-wrapped strings connecting both ends. The drum is held under the armpit; its sound depends on how hard the drummer carries it. Dono represents appellation, praises, goodwill, honor, and rhythm.
21. Duafe (comb) - Cleanliness and beauty
This symbol depicts cleanliness and beauty (desirable feminine features). It is one of the Ghanaian Adinkra symbols that spotlight the qualities of a woman, like care, love, and goodness. The wooden Duafe was used for coming and plaiting the hair, and it was a highly treasured object by Akan women.
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22. Dwennimmen (ram’s horns) - Humility and strength
Dwennimmen is a beacon of strength with virtues of humility. For example, it shows how a ram fights aggressively against any rival but will give in humbly to be sl*ughtered. The symbol means that even strong people should be humble.
23. Eban (fence) - Love and security
Eban is an African symbol of love and security. According to the Akan people, an ideal homestead should have a fence. The fence represents the protection of the family from external and harmful factors.
24. Epa (handcuffs) - Law & justice, captivity, and slavery
Epa is a mark of law and justice, captivity, and slavery. It represents the experiences of Africans in the hands of Arabs during the slave trade. It is one of the many Ghanaian symbols that depict oppression. However, this symbol does remind the offenders of the uncompromising nature of law and discourages all forms of slavery.
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25. Ese Ne Tekrema (teeth and tongue) - Human interdependence
Ese Ne Tekrema is a symbol of interdependence and friendship. It shows the interdependence between the teeth and the tongue in the mouth. Sometimes they may conflict, but they need to work together.
26. Fafanto (butterfly) - Fragility and tenderness
The word "fafanto" means "butterfly." The emblem represents the butterfly's essence: fragility, delicacy, and tenderness. A butterfly is a delicate, gentle creature with gorgeous wings. It has unbridled joy in soaring around.
27. Fawohodie (freedom) - Independence, liberty, and autonomy
Fawohodie is a symbol of independence, liberty, and autonomy. In other words, it means that freedom comes with its responsibilities, translated in Akan as "Fawodhodie ene obre na enam."
28. Fihankra (house or compound) - Security and safety
Fihankra represents fraternity, safety, security, completion, and solidarity. Among the Akans, communal living is the norm. "It takes a village to raise a child" is not just a cliche but a genuine experience. In the past, exile was the most severe punishment for a misbehaving member of society.
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29. Fofo (yellow flowed plant) - Envy and jealousy
This emblem denotes envy and jealousy. The moment Fofo's petals drop, they turn into black spiky-like seeds. The nature of the Fofo petals is compared to a jealous man. The Fofo plant wishes that the Gyinantwi seeds turn black is one of the Akan proverbs associated with Fofo.
30. Gye Nyame (except for God) - The power of God
Gye Nyame is one of the traditional Ghanaian symbols that shows the power of God. This beautiful and unique symbol is ubiquitous in Ghana. However, it is mainly used in decoration and reflects a profoundly religious character.
31. Hwehwemudua - Excellence, perfection, and knowledge
Hwehwemudua translates as "rod of inquiry," which is a measuring rod. It represents excellence, exceptional quality, perfection, knowledge, and critical thinking.
32. Hye Won Hye (that does not burn) - Enduring challenges
The symbol denotes endurance and imperishability. Its meaning stems from traditional priests walking barefooted on the fire without getting burned. Its role is to inspire others to endure and overcome challenges.
33. Kwatakye Atiko - Bravery and courage
Kwatakye Atiko translates as "the back of Kwatakye's head." It is a symbol of bravery and courage. Gyawu Atiko is another name for this symbol. It is claimed to be the hairdo of Kwatakye, an old Asante war captain.
34. Kramo Bone Amma Yeanhu Kramo Pa - Warning against lies
Kramo Bone Amma Yeanhu Kramo Pa translates as "the terrible Muslim makes it impossible to recognize the good." It represents a warning against lying and hypocrisy. This emblem is also known as “Papani amma yeanhu kramo,” which means that the profusion of excellent men made identifying Muslims difficult.
35. Kuronti ne Akwamu - Democracy, sharing ideas and advice
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Kuronti and Akwamu are two groups that make up a town or village council. As a result, the sign represents democracy, sharing ideas, and seeking advice.
They may each have their particular interests as two distinct groups, but an acceptable agreement to control the entire is born out of this conflict.
36. Mako - Opportunities and developments
Mako translates as "peppers." It is a symbol of inequity and uneven development. Mako is a shortened variant of the Akan adage "Mako nyinaa mpatu mmere," which means "All peppers (probably on the same branch) do not ripen simultaneously."
This proverb advises the wealthy to assist the less fortunate, with the underlying assumption that circumstances may change and they, too, will require assistance. As the Akans say, “Mmer dane,” or “Time Changes,” any advantage one may have now may not last forever.
37. Mate Masie (I keep what I hear) - Knowledge and wisdom
The symbol is a beacon of prudence, knowledge, and wisdom. Mate Masie means, "I understand." Understanding means wisdom and insight. It also represents the sense of considering what another person says.
38. Menso Wo Kenten - Self-sufficiency and determination
Menso Wo Kenten translates as "I am not carrying your basket." It represents industriousness, self-sufficiency, and economic self-determination.
39. Mpuannum (five tufts of hair) - Commitment and devotion
This Adinkra symbol denotes cleverness, loyalty, and a priestly office. It is said to be a priestess's hairstyle. It also shows an individual's faithfulness and devotion when doing the delegated duties.
40. Mpatapo (knot of pacification/reconciliation) - Reconciliation
The Mpatapo symbol represents pacification, peacemaking, and reconciliation. It denotes the knot or bond that brings together different parties in a dispute to a harmonious and peaceful reconciliation.
41. Mframadan - Willingness to tackle challenges
Mframadan translates as "well-ventilated dwelling." A symbol of fortitude and willingness to tackle life's ups and downs. A traditional Akan house is well-ventilated, resilient, and survives storms, rain, and tropical heat.
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42. Mmere Dane - Change and life's dynamics
Mmere Dane translates as "times change." It represents the fleeting nature of events. Since good things do not last, the fortunate should not brag. Bad things do not last, so the less fortunate should not quit. No state is permanent. A person should be humble, cooperative, and optimistic in all his endeavors.
43. Nea Onnim - Desire for knowledge and education
Nea Onnim translates as "he who does not know." It is derived from the Akan saying, "Nea onnim no sua an ohu," meaning "when one who does not know learns."
44. Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene (he who desires to be king) - Leadership
Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene is a beacon of leadership and service. It means that anyone who wants to be a leader must learn to serve. People follow someone who is willing to serve, do the dirty work, and fight for them.
45. Nkonsonkonson - Unity and human relations
Nkonsonkonson translates as "chain." It symbolizes unity in a community, as mentioned in Akan proverbs about oneness. A community should never strive to restrict resources, create boundaries, or engage in actions that do not strengthen partnerships or collaboration with other communities.
46. Nsaa - Excellence, genuineness, and authenticity
Nsaa is a woven fabric. It is a mark of excellence, genuineness, and authenticity, like the Akan saying, "Nea onnim nsaa na oto n'ago," which means "he who does not know excellent nsaa will buy the counterfeits."
The uncritical and inexperienced and those uneducated in quality principles may not differentiate the real from the counterfeit, but not the wise. They can detect quality from a long distance.
47. Nsoromma - Faith in a divine higher power
The Akan word for "star" is Nsoromma. It means "child of the heavens." It symbolizes faith, belief in divine patronage, and reliance on a higher power. The higher power of the universe or God is within all humans. By learning to trust a higher power, one becomes less likely to be controlled by people, behaviors, or substances. You become open to learning more about yourself and how to love yourself.
48. Nteasee - Cooperation
The Akan term for "understanding" is Nteasee. It is an African symbol that represents understanding and cooperation. Cooperation is the act or process of working together to get something done for a common purpose or to achieve mutual benefit.
49. Nyame Biribi Wo Soro (there is something in the heavens) - Hope
This sign means "God; there is something in the heavens," symbolizing hope and inspiration. This Adinkra is a prayer to God for a wish to be granted.
The Akans believe God is in the heavens, listening to their prayers, blessing them, and watching them. They also think he is present to see that his intentions on Earth are carried out.
50. Nyame Nwu Na Mawu - Eternality and omnipresence
Nyame Nwu Na Mawu translates, "God will not die for me to die." It is a symbol of faith in God to maintain one's soul, expressing the immortality of the human soul. To state that God will not die for me to die is to assert that the only way I can fail is for God to die. Since God is immortal, I have another life after death.
51. Nkyimu - Precision and skillfulness
This symbol is a beacon of precision and skillfulness. The artisans start by blocking the Adinkra cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a broad-tooth comb. The process happens before stamping it with symbols. This technique symbolizes the preparations to be made to get high-quality products. The emblem represents those people who are innovative in life.
52. Nyame Dua (God’s tree/altar) - God's guardianship
The symbol denotes God's existence and guardianship. What is Nyame Dua? It is a unique pot used to perform rituals. First, the pot is crafted from a tree with three conjoined branches. Then it is used to hold herbs, water, and any other symbolic material used during blessings and purification rituals.
53. Nyame Nti (God’s grace) - Trust and faith in God
This symbol represents trust and faith in God. Many cultures consider that stalk represents the staff of life. The whole plant reminds the Akan people that God's food is essential for nourishment, and humans could not survive without it.
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54. Nyansapo (wisdom knot) - Knowledge, experience, and learning
Nyansapo denotes patience, intelligence, ingenuity, and wisdom. A wise person can quickly know the best means to attain a goal. Being wise means having broad knowledge, experience, and learning.
55. Okuafo Pa - Tenacity, hard effort, and entrepreneurship
The words Okafor (farmer) and pa (good) are combined to make the phrase "good farmer." A good farmer is conscientious and dedicated.
Farming necessitates a high level of devotion to the task if you want a plentiful harvest, and at the end of the day, farmers strive for a large harvest. Therefore they must be dedicated to their work. It represents tenacity, hard effort, and entrepreneurship.
56. Osram Ne Nsoromma (moon and star) - A marital bond
The symbol represents love, unity, and harmony. It signifies a marital bond between a man and a woman. The Adinkra proverb, "Kyekye pe aware," means the North Star, and represents a deep love for marriage. A man and a woman should co-exist the same way the moon and the stars co-exist.
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57. Okodee Mmowere (an eagle's talons) - Bravery and strength
Okodee Mmowere shows power, bravery, and strength. The sign means that the eagle is the most powerful bird in the sky, and it gets its strength from its talons. The Oyoko clan usually uses this as their clan emblem.
58. Owuo Atwedee (the ladder of death) - Mortality
The symbol denotes mortality. It reminds the people of the transitory nature of existence on this Earth. Therefore, the emblem emphasizes the importance of living a great life to remain a meaningful soul after this life.
59. Pempamsie (sew in readiness) - Steadfastness and readiness
The symbol represents steadfastness, hardness, and readiness. The design of this symbol resembles the link of a chain. It shows the power through unity and the importance of always being prepared.
60. Sankofa (return and get it) - Wisdom
The emblem is characterized by a bird retracing its steps to get a lost egg. The Adinkra symbol Sankofa means collecting what has been left behind is not taboo. Therefore, each experience in life should leave an individual wiser than it met them. If the incident is not good, a person should learn how to deal with such situations in the future.
61. Wawa Aba (a Wawa tree seed) - Toughness, perseverance, and hardship
The emblem signifies toughness, perseverance, and hardship. The seed of the Wawa tree is very hard. In Akan culture, the symbol represents someone strong and inspires an individual in trouble.
62. Wo Nsa Da Mu A (if your hands are in the dish) - Democracy
This Adinkra symbol represents participatory government, pluralism, and democracy. It means that if you have already put your hands in the container, people will only eat some things and leave nothing for you.
How many Adinkra symbols are there?
There are about 122 known symbols.
What is the origin of Adinkra?
Adinkra are Ghanaian symbols from the Bono tribe of the Akan community and the ancient kingdom of Gyaaman.
Why were Adinkra symbols created?
Ancient Bono and Asanti artisans put these symbols on clothes for the royals and people of high status. They were symbols of royalty and power in the Gyaaman and Asante kingdoms in Ghana.
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What does the Adinkra symbol mean?
Each Adinkra symbol expresses an idea or aphorism. The symbols represent famous proverbs and maxims. These symbols are records of the historical events of the Akan people.
What countries use Adinkra symbols?
Adinkra symbols are popular in worldwide even though they are originally from the Akan people of Ghana. These symbols are also common in Togo and Cote d'Ivoire.
Are Adinkra symbols real?
Adinkra originates from the ancient kingdom of Gyaaman, the Bono tribe. This community is part of the 12 tribes of the Akan people of Ghana. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan gold weights. These symbols are found on fabrics, logos, architectural works, metalworks, jewelry, pottery, etc.
Are Adinkra symbols religious?
Adinkra symbols have been incorporated into Christian worship and theology since the 1960s. They became popular within secular and religious circles because of their communicative potential.
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Does the Adinkra symbol accept God?
The meanings of these Adinkra symbols prove the ancient Akan people believed in God:
- Gye Nyame (except for God) - The power of God
- Nyame Biribi Wo Soro (there is something in the heavens) - God's exitance
- Nyame Nwu Na Mawu (God will not die for me to die) - God's eternality and omnipresence
- Nyame Dua (God’s tree/altar) - God's guardianship and protection
- Nyame Nti (God’s grace) - Trust and faith in God
Adinkra symbols help the world understand the Akan people's traditional beliefs and way of life. Many worldwide use these symbols to decorate their clothes, jewellery, furniture, and other items.
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