Symbols of Wisdom: Adinkra symbols gaining popularity in 21st-century communication designs

Adinkra Symbols from Ghana

Adinkra, Ghana’s hand-made traditional communication symbols are gradually, but firmly gaining roots in the 21st century communication designs and presentation all over the world.

Many corporate institutions and organizations are currently using these aged-long traditionally designed symbols as their logo or emblem to depict their inherent values, principles, culture and traditions, tell their stories or communicate what they intend to achieve.

Some of the companies
The Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE) for example, has the “Akoma Ntoaso” (the extension of the heart) as its logo to symbolically depict “agreement of charter”, which is its core work.

Kempinski Hotel a five-star hotel in Ghana also uses the “Funtunfunafu-Denkyemfunafu” (the Siamese crocodiles that have one stomach yet fight over food) to symbolize “unity in diversity”, of which the hotel stands for.

Again, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), uses the symbol “Sesa wo suban” (change or transform your character) as a symbol to communicate what it intends to achieve in Ghana-thus, transform or change the lives of the people.

PROFIN Ghana Limited, a finance House also uses “Ese ne Tekrema” (Teeth and Tongue) symbol, meaning “we improve and advance” as its logo to depict what it seeks to achieve as a financial institution, for its customers to improve and advance in their financial status.

Additionally, New Generation Investment Services Limited, an investment firm in Kumasi, uses “Fihankra” (Symbol of safety or security in a home) to communicate its core values, which is to bring financial security to the home of its clients.

Modern artists, designers, architects, carvers, printers and others who use the hand and mind to create things, have for some time now, realized the aesthetic value of the Adinkra symbols in communication and are now using them to design messages that not only differentiate the values, culture and traditions of their clients, but also tell their stories.

In Ghana, most of the local fabrics are printed with the Adinkra symbols to communicate the story behind the cloth or tell what it can be used for.

The traditional hand-woven Adinkra clothes, made by the people of Ntonso in the Kwabre East Municipality, tells a variety of stories and convey messages and words of wisdom at all times.

As indicated by Mr Paul Nyamaah, Curator at the Ntonso Art and Craft Village, each of the Adinkra symbols “conveys words of wisdom, which are portrayed in friendship, courage, hope, respect for authority, unity, strength, togetherness, tenacity among others.

Over 600 adinkra symbols
In Ghana, there are currently over 600 different designs of the Adinkra symbols each of which tells or conveys a different story or message.

Few of the popular ones are “Gye Nyame” (Except God), “Akoma Ntoaso” (Symbol of agreement or charter), “Ese ne Tekrema” (we improve and advance), “Dwennimmen” (the heart and not the horn that leads a ram to bully), “Afena” (the retiring great warrior always has a royal sword of rest), “Biribi wo soro” (symbol of hope), “Adinkrahene” (chief of all Adinkra designs form the basis of all Adinkra printing), “Nkyinkyim” (symbol of playing many roles).

Adinkra symbols are said to have been originally created by the people of Gyaaman, a kingdom in the Bono, who are one of the Akan speaking tribes in Ghana.

Their king Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adinkra, is said to have created the original design and named it after himself.

The symbols were largely used on pottery, stools, doors and others by the people of Bono.

Those made on clothes were worn by the king and other important persons and after sometime, it spread from Bono Gyaaman to Asante and other Akan kingdoms following the defeat of the Gyaaman people in one of the wars with the Asantes.

It is said that most of the designers were captured and forced to teach the Asantes the craft.

King Agyemang Adinkra’s first son Apau, who was said to be well versed in the Adinkra designs, was forced to make several Adinkra clothes for the Asante kings and taught the youth the craft.

Kwaku Dwaku, one of the students of Apau became well versed in the craft and set up a shop in a town near Kumasi, where several people came to learn the craft and it gradually spread out in the Asante kingdom and other Akan speaking kingdoms and tribes in Ghana.

The Adinkra symbols and clothes became popular with the people of Fante, Akuapem, Akyem and others, and it is now popular in West Africa and beyond.

The significance and popularity of the Adinkra symbols in the socio-cultural awakening of Ghanaians and modern communication designs and presentation cannot be over-emphasized.

Aside creating employment opportunities for many people, it is also dawning on this present Ghanaian generation that, the wisdom and wise-sayings of our forefathers, which were portrayed in symbols, are useful today, as they were many years ago.

The Adinkra clothes, which were originally used for funerals, have now changed and the designs can now be used for several other occasions such as weddings, parties, festivals, and others.

Some people even use the symbols in their homes, offices, hotels, stadia and other public places not only for beautification, but also to tell a story or convey a message.

Others are using the Adinkra designs to make clothes and other things to communicate their worth and values as well as their traditional heritage to the outside world.

It is important to emphasize that the symbols have a lot to tell the present generation and the time to learn, understand and appreciate the wisdom in the symbols is now.

By Kwabia Owusu-Mensah/Dominic Antwi Agyei

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