African Symbols and their Meanings

South Africa

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.    

akofena Symbol

Ani bere

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”

Ani Bere Symbol

Biribi wo soro

Curiously shaped like two ears placed side by side, this symbol is a reminder that God is in heaven, always ready to listen to our prayers. 
Litteral translation: There is something in the heavens
Symbolic meaning: Hope/Reliance on God for inspiration
Proverbial Expression: God there is something in heaven, let it get to me.


The Akan people emphasize the opposite qualities of a ram, which may fight to the death against an enemy yet submits meekly to the slaughter, reminding everyone that “there is strength in humility”
Literal translation: Ram’s horns
Symbolic meaning: Concealment/Humility & Strength/Wisdom & Learning
Proverbial Expression: It is the heart and not the horns that leads a ram to bully
Dwennimmen Symbol
Dwennimmen Symbol

Abe dua

an emblem shaped like a palm tree, all parts of which are usable and beneficial
Literal translation: Palm tree
Symbolic meaning: Wealth/Self-sufficiency/Toughness/Vitality
Proverbial Expression: The human being is not like the palm that is self-sufficient

Abe dua Symbol

Related Categories: African Symbols at Amazon    Kwanzaa 


Adinkra Symbols of West Africa
An illustrated guide to the African symbols called Adinkra used in Ghana, West Africa, with an adinkra index and high-quality adinkra images.


The African Gods of Cuba and Fidel Castro
Yoruba gods protect ailing Fidel Castro from witchcraft and want to see him continue leading Cuba, the first priest of the Santeria religion to be elected to parliament said on Monday.


Inscribing Meaning: Ways of Knowing
Writing systems have flourished in Africa for thousands of years and have contributed significantly to the global history of writing. In Inscribing Meaning, artworks from a range of periods, regions and media testify to the rich diversity of scripts and forms of graphic communication.


Discover Africa - Spiritual Power of Symbols
Students will learn how symbols are used in some societies to influence spirts and to protect rooms.


African Symbols and Proverbs as a Source of Knowledge and Truth
All over Africa, visual images and ordinary objects are used symbolically to communicate knowledge, feelings and values. As symbols play such an important role in the African conception of reality, a sound understanding of African patterns of thought and feeling requires an appreciation of the nature and function of symbolism as a medium of communication in African culture.


Writing systems of Africa -
As in the cultures of other regions, the use of meaningful symbols in Africa is well established. Some of these have or have had particular customary uses. Nsibidi in what is now southern Nigeria is one example.
Adinkra symbols   


Symbols of South Africa
SA Flag, National Anthem, National Orders, Coat of Arms, National Tree, National Bird, National Fish, National Flower, National Animal.


(PDF) Akan Cultural Symbols Project
The art of a particular culture can reveal ever changing human images and attitudes, so awareness of a people's indigenous art, visual and cultural symbols can become an important medium for cross-cultural understanding. The asafo is a political-military institution of the Akan. Even though its social and political functions have been well documented, the expressive and aesthetic culture of the Asafo institution has received limited scholarly attention. Some of the symbols Akan use to incorporate their political beliefs include adinkra cloth symbols such as denkyem funafu, aban, kurontire ne akwamu, ohene tuo, adwo, tumi te se kosua, asase, and adwa.


Bamileke elephant masks - Rand African Art
Elephants are the world's most commanding land creatures, unsurpassed in grandeur and power. Thus elephant masks, while rare in Africa, are fully appropriate symbols of important leaders or, at least, their respected deputies or messengers.


African, Rasta, Voodoo & Santeria Symbols
A Visual Glossary of Religious Symbols.


University of Wisconsin: Africology
There are hundreds of "Lwa" (Haitian deities) who hail from West and Central Africa. They are spirits that inhabit the cosmos; they are cosmic, energetic forces representing or represented by natural forces, emotions or values that are important to the Haitian people.
Adinkra and VeVe