What are Adinkra Symbols?

What are Adinkra Symbols?

Adinkra are visual symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used extensively in fabrics and pottery among the Ashantis of the Ashanti Kingdom and the baoules who historically migrated from Ghana.

Adinkra are incorporated into walls and other architectural features. Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan goldweights. The symbols are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use. Tourism has led to new departures in the use of the symbols in such items as T-shirts and jewelry.

The symbols have a decorative function but 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. In the words of Kwame Anthony Appiah, they were one of the means for “supporting the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief”.