The Adinkra symbols and their profound meanings have survived to date. They are closely tied to the traditions, beliefs, and history of the Asante people. Nana Kwadwo Agyeman Adinkra, a Gyaman King, was the one who created and designed these symbols and called them after himself.
These symbols are saturated with meanings. They came to show the richness of Akan culture. They also serve as a shorthand that is used to communicate profound truths in a clear visual form. For example, in Ghana, many universities' logo is made up of at least one Adinkra symbol. This is due to their history, prevalence, and associated meanings.
What do Adinkra symbols mean?
These symbols do represent famous proverbs and maxims. They also record historical events, express specific behaviours or attitudes related to unique concepts, and depict figures that are related to abstract shapes.
Where do Adinkra symbols come from?
They come from West Africa, specifically in the regions that are known as Code d'Ivoire and Ghana. They belonged to Asante (Ashanti) people who would print them on metalwork, pottery, and cloth. These people resisted British colonial rule when it arrived in West Africa. This may be the main reason why most of the symbolism and cultural traditions survives until today.
How many Adinkra symbols are there?
There are about 122 known symbols. However, this article will focus on the most common Adinkra symbols pictures, names, and their meanings. Each symbol represents a specific belief or history of Asante people. Some of them are:
1. Adinkrahene (Chieftain of Adinkra symbols)
This is an African symbol of leadership, greatness and charisma. It has played a critical role in designing of other symbols. It shows how essential leadership is in any community. Most of the great leaders are charismatic, and therefore this symbol denotes the honourable features of a good leader.
2. Ananse Ntontan (Spider’s web)
This is a symbol of creativity, complexities of life and wisdom. Creativity is the creation of something new and different. Wisdom relates to knowledge, experience and well as reasonable judgement in decision making and taking necessary actions.
3. Asase Ye Duru (Earth has mass)
It represents the divinity and the providence of Mother earth. The symbol promotes the importance of the earth in sustaining the existence of life to every living thing. Therefore, people should not act in a way that they are going to harm the earth.
4. Aya (Fern)
This symbol depicts endurance, tolerance, and willpower. The fern is known to be a strong plant that grows in harsh climatic conditions. Those who wear this symbol suggests that they have endured many difficulties in life.
5. Abe Dua (Palm tree)
Abe Dua means palm tree. Therefore, the palm tree is a symbol of wealth, self-sufficiency and resourcefulness. This is because some products such as oil, brooms, wood, roofing materials, and wine are extracted from it.
6. Akoko Nan (A hen’s leg)
This is one of the Adinkra symbols that represents discipline and caring. Like the name suggests; a hen tramps on its chick, but can not kill them. The emblem portrays the protective and caring nature of parents.
7. Bese Saka (A bag of cola nuts)
The symbol 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 role of trade and Agriculture in bringing people together.
8. Bi Nka Bi (No one is supposed to bite the other)
This symbol represents peace and unity. The Bi Nka Bi image is based on two fish locking on each other's tail. The symbol means that people should watch out against any devious acts of provocation or civil strife.
9. Nkyimu (The crossed divisions made on Adinkra cloth before stamping)
This symbol is a beacon of precision and skillfulness. The artisans start by blocking the Adinkra cloth with lines in the form of a rectangular grid using a broad tooth comb. This happens before stamping it with symbols. This technique symbolises the preparations to be made to get high-quality products. The symbol represents those people who are innovative in life.
10. Duafe (Comb)
This symbol depicts cleanliness and beauty (desirable feminine features). It is one of the Ghanaian Adinkra symbols that put to the spotlight the qualities of a woman like care, love, and goodness. The wooden Duafe was used to plait and comb hair, and it was a highly treasured object by Akan women.
11. Denkyem (Crocodile)
This is a symbol of versatility. It shows the ability of a crocodile to survive in water for a long time and still survive outside water. This demonstrates the capability of adapting in the prevailing conditions.
12. Dwennimmen (Ram’s horns)
This symbol is a beacon of strength with virtues of humility. It shows how a ram fights aggressively against any rival but will give in humbly to be slaughtered. This means that even strong people should humble.
13. Eban (Fence)
Eban is an African symbol for love and security. According to the Akan people, a residence that is well secured with a fence is an ideal homestead. The fence represents the protection of the family from external and harmful factors.
14. Epa (Handcuffs)
This 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. This symbol does remind the offenders of the uncompromising nature of law and discourages all forms of slavery.
15. Ese Ne Tekrema (The teeth and the tongue)
Ese Ne Tekrema is a symbol advocating for interdependence and friendship. It shows the interdependence that exists between the teeth and the tongue in the mouth. Sometime they may conflict, but they need to work together.
16. Fawohodie (Freedom)
This is a symbol of independence, liberty, and autonomy. In other words, it means that independence comes with its responsibilities, which is translated in Akan as "Fawodhodie ene obre na enam."
17. Fofo (Yellow flowed plant)
This emblem denotes envy and jealous. 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. What the Fofo plant wishes is that the gyinantwi seeds turn black is one of the Akan proverbs that is associated with Fofo.
18. Gye Nyame (Except for 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. It is mostly used in decoration and as a reflection of a profoundly religious character.
19. Hye Won Hye (That does not burn)
The symbol denotes endurance and imperishability. Its meaning has been derived from the traditional priests who were walking barefooted on the fire without getting burned. Its role is to inspire other people to endure and overcome all types of challenges.
20. Akofena (Sword of war)
Akofena symbol denotes courage, heroism, and bravery. The crossed swords were the motif in many Akan states' heraldic shields. The swords are also a great representation of legitimate state authority.
21. Mate Masie (What I hear, I keep)
The symbol is a beacon of prudence, knowledge and wisdom. Mate Masie means, "I understand." Therefore, understanding means knowledge and wisdom, but it also denotes the prudence of considering what another person has said.
22. Mpuannum (Five Tufts of hair)
This Adinkra symbol denotes cleverness, loyalty, and priestly office. It is said to be priestesses' hairstyle. It also shows the faithfulness and devotion that an individual displays when doing the delegated duties.
23. Mpatapo (Knot of pacification /reconciliation)
This Adinkra symbol is a representation of pacification, peacemaking and reconciliation. It denotes the knot or bond that brings together different parties in a dispute to a harmonious and peaceful reconciliation.
24. Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene (He who desires to be king)
This is a beacon of leadership and service. It means that anyone who wants to be a leader must have learnt how to serve. In Akan expression, it means “Nea ope se obedi hene daakye no, firi ase sue som ansa.
25. Wawa Aba (Seed of the Wawa tree)
The emblem signifies toughness, perseverance, and hardship. The seed of the Wawa tree is very hard. In Akan culture, the symbol represents someone strong. Therefore, this symbol inspires an individual who is passing through hardships in life.
26. Osram Ne Nsoromma (The Moon and the Star)
The symbol represents love, unity, and harmony. It signifies the critical importance of a bond that exists between a man and a woman.The Adinkra proverbs "Kyekye pe aware" means that the North star represents deep love for marriage. It is always in the sky, waiting for the moon to return. This represents how a woman always waits for the return of her husband.
27. Wo Nsa Da Mu A (If your hands are in the dish)
This symbol is a beacon of participatory government, pluralism, and democracy. It means that, if you have already put your hands in the dish, people will not eat everything and leave nothing for you.
28. Nyame Dua (God’s tree/altar)
The symbol denotes God's existence and guardianship. Nyame Duais is a special pot used to perform rituals. The pot is crafted from a tree with three conjoined branches. Then it is used to hold herbs, water and any other symbolic material that is used during blessings and purification rituals.
29. Nyame Nti (By God’s grace)
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 the food which God placed on the earth is essential for nourishment and human could not survive without it.
30. Nyansapo (Wisdom knot)
Nyansapo denotes patience, intelligence, ingenuity and wisdom. It means that a wise person can easily know the best means to use in attaining a goal. Being wise indicates broad knowledge, experience, and learning.
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31. Okodee Mmowere (The talons of the eagle)
Okodee Mmowere shows power, bravery, and strength. This means that the eagle is the most powerful bird of the sky, and it gets its strength from its talons. This symbol is usually used by Oyoko clan as their clan emblem.
32. Owuo Atwedee (The ladder of death)
The symbol denotes mortality. It reminds the people of the transitory nature of existence on this earth. Therefore the symbol emphasises on the importance of living a great life to remain a meaningful soul after this life.
33. Pempamsie (Sew in 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 being always prepared.
34. Sankofa (Return and get it)
The emblem is characterised by a bird retracing its steps to get a lost egg. The Adinkra symbols Sankofa means that it is not a taboo to collect what has been left behind. Therefore, each experience in this life should leave an in individual wiser that it met them. If the experience was not good, a person should learn how to deal with such situations in the future.
Akan people have a long list of rich Adinkra symbols, their names and meaning. These symbols are still useful in the life of many Ghanaian to the present. You can go through the above list before buying an Adinkra outfit, ornaments and accessories and get to know their profound meanings.
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