Symbolism has been present in many different societies throughout history. Symbols
are simply non-verbal illustrations that represent different proverbs, stories,
or objects. Egyptian hieroglyphics, religious symbols such as the cross or star
of David, as well as family crests are all examples of symbols. Examples can even
be found in present day situations such as on traffic signs, buttons on electronics,
and on flags.
Ghanaian flag bearing the symbol of the black star which
represents Ghana’s independence making them the star of black Africa
Adinkra symbols were created by early craftsmen belonging to the Akan people of
Ghana. These symbols were used to represent important ideas and proverbs in the
Akan culture. One of the first and most famous uses of the symbols was Adinkra cloth.
The cloth was decorated by making lines using wooden combs, and stamping Adinkra
symbols onto the fabric.
Adinkra cloth and kente cloth in Ntonso, Ghana
There are over 60 Adinkra symbols, each with their own meaning. Some examples include
the gye nyame symbol which represents the supremacy of God and the gyawu atiko which
represents valor and bravery. Other symbols include representations of hope, adaptability,
endurance, strength, celebration, and protection. The Sankofa symbol is an Adinkra
symbol that represents the proverb that it is important to “acquire knowledge from
the past in order to improve the future.”
Keeping with the proverb represented by the Sankofa symbol, the Akan people have
not forgotten their past. In fact Ghanaians are remembering the proverbs and moral
lessons of their ancestors by embracing the Adinkra symbols. Today the Adinkra symbols
can be found all over Ghana. Adinkra symbols are present in modern Ghanaian fabric,
clothing, architecture, furniture, and jewelry.
Skirt made from traditional Adinkra fabric bearing the symbol of valor
Adinkra symbolism used in various architectural structures in Accra, Ghana
(Supremacy of God, harmony, and wisdom)
Adinkra symbol of harmony used as a logo
Adolph H. Abago, Values of Adinkra & Agama Symbols (Kumasi: Bigshy, 2006),