Adinkra Symbols & Meanings Adinkra Symbols & Meanings
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African symbols known as adinkra are ubiquitous in Ghana, a beautiful West African country on the Atlantic, situated between Cote d'Ivoire and Togo.... Adinkra Symbols & Meanings
Adinkra Symbol Gye Nyame

Adinkra Symbol Gye Nyame

African symbols known as Adinkra are ubiquitous in Ghana, a beautiful West African country on the Atlantic, situated between Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. On cloth and walls, in pottery and logos, these Asante tribe symbols can be found everywhere. Cultural experts encouraged the participants to identify an Adinkra symbol that resonated with them. Each meaning was discussed in detail and linked to how the Ghanaian communities apply these ancient symbols to day to day living. They are vibrant reminders of the complexity of their ancient culture.

 

adinkrahenehigh-invert ADINKRAHENE “chief of adinkra symbols” “chief of adinkra symbols” symbol of greatness, charisma and leadership. This symbol is said to have played an inspiring role in the designing of other symbols. it signifies the importance of playing a leadership role.
akobenhigh-invert AKOBEN “war horn” “war horn” is a symbol of vigilance and wariness. Akoben is a horn
used to sound a battle cry.
akofenahigh-invert AKOFENA “sword of war” “sword of war” symbol of courage, valor, and heroism. The crossed swords were a popular motif in the heraldic shields of many former Akan states. In addition to recognizing courage and valor, the swords can represent legitimate state authority.
akoko-nanhigh-invert AKOKONAN “the leg of a hen” “the leg of a hen” symbol of nurturing and discipline. The full name of this symbol translates to “The hen treads on her chicks, but she does not kill them.” This represents the ideal nature of parents, being both protective and corrective. An exhortation to nurture children, but a warning not to pamper them.
akomahigh-invert AKOMA “the heart” “the heart” symbol of patience and tolerance .When a person is said to “have a heart in his stomach,” that person is very tolerant.
 akoma-ntoasohigh-invert AKOMA NTOSO “linked hearts” “linked hearts” symbol of understanding and agreement.
 ananse-ntontanhigh-invert ANANSE NTONTAN “spider’s web” “spider’s web” symbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African folktales.
 asase-ye-duruhigh-invert ASASE YE DURU “the Earth has weight” “the Earth has weight” symbol of providence and the divinity of Mother Earth This symbol represents the importance of the Earth in sustaining life.
 ayahigh-invert AYA “fern” “fern” symbol of endurance and resourcefulness The fern is a hardy plant that can grow in difficult places. “An individual who wears this symbol suggests that he has endured many adversities and outlasted much difficulty.”
 bese-sakahigh-invert BESE SAKA “sack of cola nuts” “sack of cola nuts” symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity The cola nut played an important role in the economic life of Ghana. A widely-used cash crop, it is closely associated with affluence and abundance. This symbol also represents the role of agriculture and trade in bringing peoples together.
bi-nnka-bihigh-invert BI NKA BI “no one should bite the other” “no one should bite the other” symbol of peace and harmony This symbol cautions against provocation and strife. The image is based on two fish biting each other tails.
boa-me-na-me-boa-wohigh-invert BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO “help me and let me help you” “help me and let me help you” symbol of cooperation and interdependence.
dame-damehigh-invert DAME-DAME name of a board game name of a board game symbol of intelligence and ingenuity.
odenkyemhigh-invert DENKYEM “crocodile” “crocodile” symbol of adaptability The crocodile lives in the water, yet breathes the air, demonstrating an ability to adapt to whatever situation it finds itself in.
donohigh-invert DONO “bell drum” “bell drum” symbol of adoration, cajolery, praise and rhythm.
duafehigh-invert DUAFE “wooden comb” “wooden comb” symbol of beauty and cleanliness; symbols of desirable feminine qualities.
dwannimmenhigh-invert DWENNIMMEN “ram’s horns” “ram’s horns” symbol of humility together with strength The ram will fight fiercely against an adversary, but it also submits humbly to slaughter, emphasizing that even the strong need to be humble.
ebanhigh-invert EBAN “fence” “fence” symbol of love, safety and security The home to the Akan is a special place. A home which has a fence around it is considered to be an ideal residence. The fence symbolically separates and secures the family from the outside. Because of the security and the protection that a fence affords, the symbol is also associated with the security and safety one finds in love.
epahigh-invert EPA “handcuffs” “handcuffs” symbol of law and justice, slavery and captivity. Handcuffs were introduced in Africa as a result of the slave trade, and later became popular among chiefs in cuffing offenders of the law. “The symbol reminds offenders of the uncompromising nature of the law. It however discourages all forms of slavery.”
ese-ne-tekremahigh ESE NE TEKREMA “the teeth and the tongue” “the teeth and the tongue” symbol of friendship and interdependence The teeth and the tongue play interdependent roles in the mouth. They may come into conflict, but they need to work together.
fawohudiehigh FAWOHODIE “independence” “independence” symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation “From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation: Independence comes with its responsibilities.”
fihankrahigh FIHANKRA “house/compound” “house/compound” symbol of security and safety. Typical of Akan (Asante) architecture, the communal housing compound has only one entrance and exit.
fofoohigh FOFO “a yellow-flowered plant” “yellow flowered plant” symbol of jealousy and envy “When the fofo’s petals drop, they turn into black spiky-like seeds. The Akan liken the nature of this plant to a jealous person.”
funtummireku-denkyemmirekuhigh FUNTUNFUNEFU DENKYEMFUNEFU “siamese crocodiles” “Siamese crocodiles” symbol of democracy and unity The Siamese crocodiles share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular symbol is a reminder that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it.
gye-nyamehigh GYE NYAME “except for God” “except for God” symbol of the supremacy of God This unique and beautiful symbol is ubiquitous in Ghana. It is by far the most popular for use in decoration, a reflection on the deeply religious character of the Ghanaian people.
hwemuduahigh HWEMUDUA “measuring stick” “measuring stick” symbol of examination and quality control. This symbol stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in production of goods or in human endeavors.
hye-wo-nhyehigh HYE WONHYE “that which cannot be burnt” “that which does not burn” symbol of imperishability and endurance This symbol gets its meaning from traditional priests that were able to walk on fire without burning their feet, an inspiration to others to endure and overcome difficulties.
kete-pahigh-invert KETE PA “good bed” “good bed” symbol of a good marriage From the expression that a woman who has a good marriage is said to sleep on a good bed.
kuntinkantanhigh-invert KINTINKANTAN “puffed up extravagance” “puffed up extravagance” symbol of arrogance.
gyawu-atikohigh KWATAKYE ATIKO “hair style of an Asante war captain” “hair style of an Asante war captain” symbol of bravery and valor. This symbols is said to be a special hair style of Kwatakye, a war captain of old Asante. The symbol has come to represent bravery and fearlessness. It is also given as an earned title to any brave son of an Akan community.
ntesie-mate-masiehigh MATE MASIE “what I hear, I keep” “What I hear, I keep” symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence. The implied meaning of the phrase “mate masie” is “I understand”. Understanding means wisdom and knowledge, but it also represents the prudence of taking into consideration what another person has said.
me-ware-wohigh ME WARE WO “I shall marry you” “I shall marry you” symbol of commitment, perseverance. From the expression “No one rushes into the job of mixing the concrete for building the house of marriage.”
mframadanhigh MFRAMADAN “wind-resistant house” “wind-resistant house” symbol of fortitude and readiness to face life’s vicissitudes. This symbol suggests a reinforced or well-built home one built to withstand windy and treacherous conditions. It reflects in Asante history a clause in the unwritten constitutution of the Golden Stool. Oral acocunts say that according to that clause, mud houses in Kumasi must be reinforced with turf. This reinforcing would cause the house to be sturdier and resistant to unfavorable weather conditions.
mmere-danehigh MMERE DANE “time changes” “time changes” symbol of change, life’s dynamics.
krapahigh MMUSUYIDEE “that which removes ill luck” “that which removes bad luck” symbol of good furtune and sanctity.
mpatapohigh MPATAPO “knot of reconciliation” “knot of reconciliation” symbol of reconciliation, peacemaking and pacification Mpatapo represents the bond or knot that binds parties in a dispute to a peaceful, harmonious reconciliation. It is a symbol of peacemaking after strife.
mpuannum-nkotimsofo-puuahigh MPUANNUM “five tufts” (of hair) “five tufts” (of hair) symbol of priestly office, loyalty and adroitness .This symbol is said to be the hairstyle of joy. It is the traditional hairstyle of the priestesses. The design of the adinkra symbol Mpuannum resembles the way the priestesses’ hair was tied. It also represents the devotion and faithfulness one displays when doing a task required of one. In addition, Mpuannum means loyalty or the embodiment of lofty duty to a desired goal.
nea-onnim-no-sua-a-ohuhigh NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU “he who does not know can know from learning” “He who does not know can know from learning” symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge.
nea-ope-se-obedi-henehigh NEA OPE SE OBEDI HENE “he who wants to be king” “he who wants to be king” symbol of service and leadership. From the expression “Nea ope se obedi hene daakye no, firi ase sue som ansa” meaning “He who wants to be king in the future must first learn to serve.”
nkonsonkonsonhigh NKONSONKONSON “chain links” “chain link” symbol of unity and human relations. A reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength.
nyame-duahigh NYAME DUA “tree of god” “tree of god” symbol of God’s presence and protection. The Nyame Dua is a sacred spot where rituals are performed. Erected in front of the house or compound, it is crafted from a tree that has been cut where three or more branches come together. This stake holds an earthenware vessell filled with water and herbs or other symbolic materials for purification and blessing
rituals.
nhwimuhigh-invert NKYIMU the crossed divisions made on Adinkra cloth before printing the crossed divisions made on adinkra cloth before stamping symbol of skillfulness, precision Before adinkra cloth is stamped with the symbols, the artisan blocks off the cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a broad-tooth comb. This preparation is symbolic of the exacting technique which results in the highest quality product.
nkyinkyimhigh-invert NKYINKYIM “twisting” “twisting” symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility.
nssahigh-invert NSAA type of hand-woven cloth a type of hand-woven fabric symbol of excellence, genuineness, authenticity. The Nsaa symbols reflects a saying: “nea onnim nsaa oto n’ ago”, which he translates as “He who does not know authentic Nsaa will buy the fakes.” The quality of Nsaa has come to represent quality of workmanship in general.
nsorommahigh-invert NSOROMMA “child of the heavens” “child of the heavens” symbol of guardianship. A reminder that God is the father and watches over all people.
biribi-wo-sorohigh-invert NYAME BIRIBI WO SORO “God is in the heavens” “God is in the heavens” symbol of hope A reminder that God’s dwelling place is in the heaven, where he can listen to all prayers.
nyame-nnwu-na-me-wuhigh-invert NYAME NNWU NA MAWU “God never dies, therefore I cannot die” “God never dies, therefore I cannot die” symbol of God’s omnipresence and the perpetual existence of man’s spirit. This signifies the immortality of man’s soul, believed to be a part of God. Because the soul rests with God after death, it cannot die.
nyami-ntihigh-invert NYAME NTI “by God’s grace” “by God’s grace” symbol of faith and trust in God. This stalk is depicted as the staff of life in many cultures. It symbolizes to the Akan that food is a basis of life and that they could not survive if not for the food that God has placed here on Earth for their nourishment.
nyame-ye-ohenehigh-invert NYAME YE OHENE “God is King” “God is King” symbol of majesty and supremacy of God.
nyansapohigh-invert NYANSAPO “wisdom knot” “wisdom knot” symbol of wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience A especially revered symbol of the Akan, this symbol conveys the idea that a wise person has the capacity to choose the best means to attain a goal. Being wise implies broad knowledge, learning and experience, and the ability to apply such faculties to practical ends.
odo-nyera-fie-kwanhigh-invert ODO NNYEW FIE KWAN “love never loses its way home” “Love never loses its way home” symbol of the power of love.
okodee-mmowerehigh-invert OKODEE MMOWERE “talons of the eagle” “the talons of the eagle” symbol of strength, bravery, power The eagle is the mightiest bird in the sky, and its strength is concentrated in its talons. The Oyoko clan, one of the nine Akan clans, uses this symbol as their clan emblem.
onyankopon-adom-nti-biribiara-beye-yiehigh-invert ONYANKOPON ADOM NTI BIRIBIARA BEYE YIE “By God’s grace, all will be well” “By God’s grace, all will be well” symbol of hope, providence, faith.
osram-ne-nsoromahigh-invert OSRAM NE NSOROMMA “the moon and the star” “The moon and the star” symbol of love, faithfulness, harmony. This symbol reflects the harmony that exists in the bonding between a man and a woman. Proverb: “Kyekye pe aware.” (The North Star has a deep love for marriage. She is always in the sky waiting for the return of the moon, her husband.)
owo-foro-adobehigh-invert OWO FORO ADOBE “snake climbing the raffia tree” “snake climbing the raffia tree” symbol of steadfastness, prudence and diligence. Because of its thorns, the raffia tree is a very dangerous challenge to the snake. His ability to climb it is a model of persistence and prudence.
owuo-atwedeehigh-invert OWUO ATWEDEE “the ladder of death” “the ladder of death” symbol of mortality a reminder of the transitory nature of existence in this world and of the imperative to live a good life to be a worthy soul in the afterlife.
pempamsiehigh-invert PEMPAMSIE “sew in readiness” “sew in readiness” symbol of readiness, steadfastness, hardiness. The design of this symbol resembles the links of a chain, and implies strength through unity as well as the importance of being prepared.
sankofahigh-invert SANKOFA “return and get it” “return and get it” symbol of importance of learning from the past.
sankofa-alternatehigh-invert SANKOFA (alternate version) (alternate version)
sesa-worubanhigh-invert SESA WO SUBAN “Change or transform your character” “Change or transform your character” symbol of life transformation. This symbol combines two separate Adinkra symbols, the “Morning Star” which can mean a new start to the day, placed inside the wheel, representing rotation or independent movement.
tamfo-bebrehigh-invert TAMFO BEBRE “the enemy will stew in his own juice” “the enemy will stew in his own juice” symbol of jealousy and envy.
wawa-abahigh-invert WAWA ABA “seed of the wawa tree” “seed of the wawa tree” symbol of hardiness, toughness and perseverance. The seed of the wawa tree is extremely hard. In Akan culture, it is a symbol of someone who is strong and tough. It inspires the individual to persevere through hardship.
wuforo-dua-pa-ahigh-invert WOFORO DUA PA A “when you climb a good tree” “when you climb a good tree” symbol of support, cooperation and encouragement. From the expression “Woforo dua pa a, na yepia wo” meaning “When you climb a good tree, you are given a push”. More metaphorically, it means that when you work for a good cause, you will get support.
wo-nsa-da-mu-ahigh-invert WO NSA DA MU A “if your hands are in the dish” “If your hands are in the dish” symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism. From the aphorism, “Wo nsa da mu a, wonni nnya wo” — “If your hands are in the dish, people do not eat everything and leave you nothing.”

 

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