Bibini4gh Blog

Adinkra: Beyond saying farewell

If there are Ghanaian cultural elements that have not only thrived but, is gaining massive popularity at present, then Adinkra is certainly one of them.

Do these symbols ring a bell?

Adinkra_symbols and meaning

Well, Adinkra symbols known to have originated from Ghana have become popular for its richness in traditional concepts and aphorism. Other school of thoughts has it that it originated from Gyaaman in Cote D’ivoire.

In Ghanaian circles Adinkra is an Akan word which means, “saying good-bye (farewell) to the dead.” It entails a philosophical message that one conveys when mourning during a funeral or the post-burial memorial.

It constitutes a “system” of verbal and visual imagery. Adinkra symbols are figurative and stylized geometric images that embody poetic messages, proverbs, or aphorisms. Some of the symbols express the legendary history of the Akan people, and others are cultural metaphors and aphorisms about myths, legends, beliefs, and rituals. They contain multi-layered meanings and profound truths. They provide a framework of moral virtues and lessons for the good life. They epitomize the Akan world view and their quest for truth and righteousness in the world.

Currently, it is often used in fabrics, pottery, logos etc. but in the spheres of architecture, they are also incorporated into walls and frames of building due to its aesthetic value. It is common to find imprints of Adinkra symbols on batik fabric made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing.

In palaces and sacred traditional houses the gold weights, stools for domestic or even ritual purposes have Adinkra symbols embossed or carved on them. There are so many of them but the common ones one may come across include Sankofa which (literally means return and get it), Gye nyame (Except God), Ese ne tekyerema (the tongue and the teeth) etc.

Despite the decorative function of Adinkra symbols, they also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment. There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with proverbs.

Even better now, it is worn extensively as everyday clothing. Adinkra is popular throughout Akan-Ghana, but it is generally not worn in the other areas of Ghana yet  it has become an important cultural export from Ghana to the rest of the world.

On this note, “Ma yen di nkra” meaning (Let’s say farewell) for now. chao!


The Adinkra Dictionary: A Visual Primer on the Language of Adinkra by W. Bruce Willis$&id=sirigu

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