African Symbols and their Meanings
An old Asante legend has it that Adinkra was the name of a Gyaman king who was captured in a battle. It is said that Adinkra copied the “Golden Stool” which for the Asantes represented absolute power and tribal unity. For this, he was later killed and his territory became part of the Asante Kingdom. In the legend, Adinkra expressed his sorrow at being taken to the Asante capital Kumasi by wearing patterned cloth. Around the 19th century, the Asantes took to painting traditional Gyaman symbols onto cloth, just the way the Gyamans did. These became known as Adinkra symbols.
Adinkra symbols are expressions of Asante philosophy, beliefs and history. They are rich in proverbial meanings, an important facet of Asante culture. The use of proverbs signifies wisdom for the Asantes. Adinkra symbols also depict human bahavior, important events, animal behavior, shapes and plants. Adinkra symbolism is still evolving, incorporating new influences as they are experienced by Ghanaian society, like modern technological developments of today.
Below are some Adinkra symbols and their meanings:
crossed swords popularly used as motif for heraldic shields of many of the old Akan states.
- Literal translation: Royal/Ceremonial Sword or Sword of War
- Symbolic meaning: Authority, Valor, Gallantry, Courage
- Proverbial Expression: The great warrior always has a royal sword of rest even when he retires.
Loosely translated, “No matter how red-eyed (serious) a person becomes, his eyes will not spark flames”Literal translation: Seriousness
Symbolic meaning: Self-discipline/Diligence/Perseverance
Proverbial Expression: “Seriousness does not show fiery eyes; else you would see my face all red”
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An illustrated guide to the African symbols called Adinkra used in Ghana, West Africa, with an adinkra index and high-quality adinkra images.
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