Adinkra Symbolism

Tradition has it that Adinkra, a famous king of Gyaman (now Ivory Coast), angered the Asantehene, Bonsu-Panin, by trying to copy the Golden Stool. Adinkra was defeated and slain in an ensuing war. It has been suggested that the art of Adinkra came from Gyaman. It is also significant that Adinkra means farewell or good-bye, hence the use of the special cloth on funeral occasions (ayie), to say good-bye to the departed.

"Adinkra aduru" (Adinkra Medicine), the stuff used in the stamping process, is prepared by boiling the bark of "Badie" together with iron slags. Originally the printing was done on the cotton piece lying on the ground. Today raised platforms with sack covering act as the printing table. The designs, cut on pieces of Calibash with pieces of wood attached for handling, are dipped into the stuff, then stamped onto the cloth. Adinkra cloths are not meant to be washed.

1. Gye Nyame (accept God). Symbol of the omnipotence and immortality of God. 2. "Funtimfunafu denkyemfunafu, won afru bom, nso woredidi a na woreko." Sharing of one stomach yet they fight over food. 3. Odenkyem da nsuo mu, nso onnhome nsuo, ohome mframa. The crocodile lives in water; yet it breaths air not water.
4. Bi-nnka-bi.
Obi nnka obi
(bite not one another).
5. Osrane (Moon). "Osrane mmfiti preko nntware man" It takes the moon some time to go round the nation. 6. Kramo bone amma yeannhu kramo pa. We cannot tell the good from the bad because of pretence and hypocrisy.
7. Nsaa (a kind of blanket).
"Nea onim nsaa na oto n'ago."
The one who knows the 'Nsaa' blanket is willing to buy one even when it is old.
8. Fofoo.
Se die fofoo pe ne se gyinantwi abo bidie.
What the fofoo plant wants is that the gyinantwi seeds should turn black. Symbol of jealousy.
9. Adinkrahene (Adinkra king). Chef of all the Adinkra designs, forms the basis of Adinkra printing.
10. Dwannimmen (Ram's horn). "Dwannini ye asisie a, ode n'akorana na ennye ne mben."
It is the heart and not the horns that leadas a ram to bully. (Concealment).
11. Mpuannum(Nkotimsofo Puaa).
Five tufts of hair. A traditionally fashionable hair style.
12. Hye wonnhye (he who burns be not burned)
Symbol of forgiveness - turn the other cheek.
13. Nkonsonkonson (link or chain)
We are all linked in both life and death. Those who share common, blood relations never break apart. Symbol of human relations.
14. Owuo atwedie, baako mmfo (obiara bewu).
All men shall climb the ladder of death.
15. Sepow: (Knife used in executions).
This is thrust through the victim's cheeks to prevent his invoking a curse on the king.
16. Gyawu atiko.This is said to be the design shaved by Gyawu, a once Bantamahene 17. Sankofa (return and take it)
"Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yennkyi."
It is no taboo to return and fetch it when you forget. You can always undo your mistakes.
18. Kra pa. (Mmusuyide). Good fortune, sanctity.
"Kra pa te se okra; okyiri fi." Sanctity, like a cat abhors filth. Symbol of sanctity and good fortune.
19. Flhankra (the circular house or complete house). This signifies safety or security in a home. 20. Nyame nnwu na mawu.
(If Nyame - God - dies then I may die).
Perpetual existence.
21. Ohene aniwa (in the King's eye).
The King has lots of eyes and nothing is hidden from him.
22. Akoma (The heart). "Nya akoma" (take heart) and take patience. Symbol of patience and endurance. 23. Biribi wo soro. "Nyame, biribi wo soro na ma embeka me nsa."
(God, if there is something in the heavens, let it reach me.) A symbol of hope.
24. Nsoromma (child of the heavens); Star. "Oba Nyankonsoromma te Nyame na onnte ne ho so."
Child of God - his illumination is a reflection of God's.
25. Krado - Mmara krado.
(Seal of law and order). Symbolising the authority of the court.
26. Kodee mmowerewa (the talons of the eagle). This is also said to be shaved on the heads of some court attendants. 27. Aya (the fern).
This word also means 'I am not afraid of you.'
A symbol of defiance.
28. Osrane ne nsoromma (moon and star). A symbol of faithfulness. 29. Nyamedua (an alter to the sky God). Alter - place of worship. 30. Nhwimu (crossing). The divisions done onto the plain cloth before the stamping is done.
31. Mframadan (wind house).
House built to stand windy and treacherous conditions.
32. Aban (fence). Representing fenced homes. A protector. Double security. Safe and sound. Fool-proof. 33. "Ani bera a, ennso gya, anka m'ani abere koo."
Seriouseness does not show firey eyes, else you would see my face all read.
34. Ohene tuo (the King's gun). Defender and protector of the King. 35. Ako-ben (war horn). Another significant version of the war horn which symbolises the call to arms. 36.Nkyinkylm (Ohemmaa nnkylnkyln). Changing oneself; playing many roles.
37. Wawa aba (the seed of the wawa tree). Wawa is a hardwood used in carving hence its significance in Akan culture. 38. Kuntinkantan (do not boast). There is need for humility and service. 39. Ntesie - mate masle. I have heard and kept it. "Nyansa bun mu ne mate masle." Symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
40. "Akoko nan tia ba, na ennkum ba." (The hen treads upon its chicken but it does not kill them). 41. Epa (handcuffs). "Onii a ne pa da wo nsa no, na n'akoa ne wo."
You are the slave of him whose handcuffs you wear.
42. Another version of Adinkrahene. Unlike No. 9, this one is used as a symbol in itself for printing.
43. Nnonnowa (Ahoma). Also called "donno ntoaso" (the double donno drum). This is more symbolic than representational. 44. Duafe (the wooden comb). One of the very few representational forms in Adinkra patterns. 45. Kontire ne Akwam (elders of the state). "Tikoro mmpam" (one head does not constitute a council).
46. Mmara Krado (seal of the law). Symbolising supreme authority. 47. Owo foro adobe (snake climbing the palm tree). Performing the unusual or the impossible. 48. Ako-ben (war horn). The sound of akoben is a battle cry, hence it symbolises a call to arms.
49. Sunsum (Soul). Some Akans believe that the soul of a ruler inhabits a younger courtier. 50. Bese saka (a bunch of colanuts). Bese (colanut) is the favorite of the Northern tribes. 51. Tabon (paddle). Paddles are more common with the coastal tribes.
52. Pa gya (to strike fire or make fire). This is said to represent war. 53. Donno (drum). This is more like the donno drum than does design No. 43. 54. Akoma ntoaso. A symbol of agreement or a charter.
55. Another version of symbol No. 2. Need for unity particularly where there is one destiny. 56. Ese ne takrema (the teeth and the toung). "Wonnwo ba ne se." We improve and advance. 57. Afena (a state ceremonial sword). "Akofena kunini ko a, wobo a fena kye no safohene."
The retiring great warrior always has a royal sword of rest. Recognition of gallantry.
58. Another "Sankofa" design (it could be a broken piece from the original design No. 17). 59. Dame-dame (a drafts game). A more traditionally popular gameis the "Oware." 60. Pempamsie (that which will not crush). "Pempamsie se, bebrebe ahooden ne koroye." Unity is strength.

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