Symbolism has played an important role in human lives since neolithic times, when caves were painted with symbols depicting everything from hunting practices to divine beings in the heavens. Adrinkra symbols originate from the Bono people of Gyaman, who lived in modern day Ghana and Ivory Coast. The symbols were created by King Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adrinkra and were named after himself. The symbols were used on by the Bono people to decorate pottery and stools. Adrinkra cloths were only worn by royalty and spiritual leaders for special occasions or funerals. The symbols were linked to proverbs and depicted the Bono people’s history, beliefs and philosophy. Below are a few of these Adinkra symbols that are still relevant in our lives today and their meanings.
The palm tree of the Abe Dua symbol is representative of vitality, self sufficiency and strength that comes from the palm tree. We see palm trees used throughout our daily lives in advertisements for coconut water, or for trips to tropical destinations. Palms in western culture are usually seen as a relaxing, laid back image – denoting its use in tropical destination advertisements. With the healthy eating boom, the palm is also being seen more as a source of health and strength now too with the advent of things like coconut oils and spreads replacing butters and olive as the go-to oil and spread around the world.
The Adinkrahene symbol is one of royalty and greatness. It’s was one of the primary Adinkra symbols and its name literally means Adinkra King and was the basis for many Adinkra printings and was seen as the leadership of symbols – leading to the development of many others. We see this symbol in our lives today in the west in a number of ways – bullseye targets at archery galleries or shooting ranges, and even as some shop or business logos. This is a symbol that is quite prominent throughout the world for a number of different reasons and in the western world it’s usually a symbol of “hit here” or another version of “X marks the spot”.
The Adwera is a symbol of chastity, good fortune, cleanliness and sanctity. It suggests health and wellness because of its association with cleanliness as well as life giving water. There are similar symbols in our world today, many of which have similar connotations of health and wellness. Greenery is often times attributed to health, growth and being healthy, so many health and wellness companies use greenery like leaves and shrubs as part of their marketing strategies.
This symbol of the two crossed swords represents courage, heroism, valour and state authority. It is a reminder to stand up for the right thing in the world, and to always act bravely in your own way. It reminds that bravery comes in many shapes and sizes and isn’t always what it seems and can be standing up for someone being bullied or by stopping ignorance and hatred in your own way. In the west this symbol is often used as well on many coats of arms and shields as a similar representation. It signifies the strength of a house or a government and can be seen as the meaning of similar things – strength, courage and bravery.
This symbol is almost self-explanatory and means the same thing both in Adinkra symbolism as well as the west and present day – love, tolerance and acceptance. This particular symbol is strewn in great swathes in our present day, on everything from valentine’s cards, birthday cards, notes passed from one person to the next and even electronically on emojis and other forms of digital communication.
Adinkra Symbols: Ananse Ntontan (The Spider’s Web)
This symbol means “the spider web” and is a reminder that all things are connected. It also highlights the complexity of life and how wisdom is gained throughout life. This is perhaps the best representation of life, with its intricate web of decisions, lessons, and mistakes and reminds us that a mistake and lesson are important in learning and growing. In the west as well this is a common symbol, often found on clothing and wallpaper and is representative of beauty and grace, as well as elegance and an enjoyment of nature. If you look back at history, this particular shape was prominent in the counter-culture movement of the 1960s.
Adinkra Symbols: Asase Ye Duru (The Earth has weight)
This symbol is one which signifies the supreme sanctity and divinity of the planet earth as a life-giving force. Tribes that live primarily off the earth know more than any others that the earth is the most important aspect of our lives as we have only one earth to live on. This is a common symbol found throughout the western world but is usually used as a decorative symbol on things such as iron gating and iron bars on windows and the like. It may be sometimes used as decoration on things such as valentine’s cards or other love-based products as a flashier, prettier version of the standard heart, and in that sense this is a symbol that can mean “love” in our modern-day.
Despite looking like a standard daisy flower (as you’d think in the west if you saw this), this symbol is actually four cola nuts, a staple to some African cultures. The four nuts together showcases togetherness, working as a team and the importance of agriculture to some countries. It also represents how agriculture brings people together. This is a common symbol in the west – floral patterns and designs are abundant on clothing, wallpaper and the like, and most of the floral designs in our modern world represent things such as beauty and growth.
This symbol represents humility and strength – the horns locked in battle show how strength can come to the forefront of all situations when necessary, but also the image shows how each being is the same as the others, with no one more or less important and we all face the same ultimate fates. This imagery – namely the spirals can be seen throughout our world, and is used as decoration on vases, clothing, in paintings and the like.
Adinkra Symbols: Mmusuyidee (That which removes ill luck)
The symbol of good luck and fortune this is a popular African symbol that is seen on clothing, weapons, shields and the like. In that sense, it is and was used widely by ancient people throughout the world such as on the shields and weaponry of explorers and is typically seen as the symbol of those who worked throughout the inquisition – this was often on the armour of explorers and was used as an early form of the cross.