In ancient times, Adinkra symbols were often reserved for royalty in African countries. It’s, therefore, no surprise that you would find the African symbol for queen as part of the Adinkra symbols.
As is the case with most cultures around the world, African heritage is colorful and often only meaningful to the members of the specific tribe or society. Like most societies, however, the cultural heritage of a people can be carried across and mixed with other cultures to create an even more vibrant alternative.
In African culture, the Adinkra symbols represent this mixing. These symbols represent an idea, evoke emotions, and hold spiritual meaning.
Let’s take a look at Adinkra symbols and what they mean today.
The Origin of the Adinkra Symbols
Like most symbols across the globe, the Adinkra symbols have a debatable origin. The most widely believed theory is that a Gyaman King invented them called Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adinkra, who quite literally named the symbols after himself.
Adinkra was the King of Gyaman, which was a former kingdom of what is today Côte d’Ivoire. According to legend, Adinkra was defeated in battle and captured by Asante warriors (Ghana’s Asante).
All this commotion occurred when Adinkra copied the “Golden Stool,” a symbol representing tribal cohesion and absolute power for the Asante. After his capture, the Asantes killed Adinkra and annexed his kingdom for their own.
Legend has it that during his capture, Adinkra wore patterned clothes with symbols on them. These patterns were meant to symbolize his sorrow and displeasure at being taken captive and transported to Kumasi, the capital city of the Asante.
Despite representing sorrow, these patterns were attractive, and the Asante people soon took to having the same designs and patterns on their own clothes. Adinkra symbols, essentially Gyaman symbolism, had become part of both cultures’ (Gyaman and Asante) traditional clothing by the nineteenth century.
The Symbolism of the Adinkra Patterns
According to the “Twi” language, a language that was spoken by the Akan ethnic groups, which were part of the Asante, Adinkra means “farewell” or “goodbye.” This particular group wore clothes with Adinkra symbols on them on special occasions, such as the funeral of a family member, a friend, or a close relative.
The Adinkra symbols on their clothes of each person were used as a way of bidding farewell to the departed as well as to signify their sorrow.
Today, because the Adinkra symbols are so popular, clothes bearing these patterns are worn not only by the people of Ghana but also by people from various ethnic backgrounds across the globe.
The Names and Meanings of the Adinkra Symbols
There are about 122 known Adinkra symbols. Like most ancient symbols and patterns, some have disappeared into history and time. There are still, however, some well-known Adinkra symbols and patterns that are used on clothes today. Here are some of the most common Adinkra symbols and their meanings.
Aban: Strength and Authority
This is one of the most common Adinkra symbols today. In the Akan tribe, the word “Aban” directly translates to “castle” or “fortress.” It is often used as a symbol of power and authority. It also represents strength and magnificence.
Adwo: Peace and Tranquility
Like most cultures around the globe, the Akan people believed that having a sense of peace, calm, and tranquility within oneself greatly reduced the kind of impact that turmoil from the outside world had on the individual.
In the Akan tribe, “adwo” means “quiet.” The symbol itself represents tranquility, quiet, and peace. Whoever wears it reminds themselves to try remaining calm as possible, regardless of the prevailing circumstances.
Adinkrahene: Leadership and Charisma
This is the African symbol of greatness, charisma, and leadership. The Adinkrahene has greatly influenced other Adinkra symbols. It showcases just how important good leadership is to a society or community. As you would expect, this symbol is often reserved for an African royal family or great leaders.
Also known as “Agyin’s gong,” Agyindawuru is the Adinkra symbol for vigilance, loyalty, and responsibility. This symbol was designed to honor “Agyin,” one of Asante’s most diligent and faithful gong-beaters.
Akoben: A Call to Action
Akoben is a “battle horn,” symbolizing a call to action or readiness. It’s a symbol that signifies always being prepared.
Akofena: Battle Sword
Even though the word “akofena” literally means “battle sword,” the term symbolizes the state’s ceremonial swords. It’s used as a symbol of mental fortitude, legality, or the legitimacy of a ruler. It’s also used as a way to symbolize the heroic or brave actions of others.
Akoma Ntoaso: Merged Hearts
Directly translating to “the merging of hearts” or “joined hearts,” the Akoma Ntoaso is a symbol that signifies an agreement, unity, oneness, or some kind of charter.
Sankofa: Learning From the Past
The Sankofa symbol is closely associated with a powerful proverb. The proverb goes, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi.” Directly translated, it says, “It’s not taboo to go back and take what you forgot.” In short, it says there’s wisdom in learning from the past to help you improve your future.
Akoma is the symbol of endurance or a modern-day standard heart. To the Asante people of Ghana today, this symbol means unity, patience, benevolence, faithfulness, or love. If it is to be taken literally, it would mean “the heart.” In some sections of the community, the Akoma symbol represents forbearance whenever one is facing adversity.
Like most symbols of the ancient world, each Adinkra symbol looks to tell a story. Mostly, the story is about the culture of its people or the person wearing the symbol. Wearing an Adinkra symbol is about who you are deep down inside or how you want the world to perceive you.
While these symbols are centuries old, they still have great meaning today, both in the African continent and in the outside world.