Adinkra is communication symbols of the Asante and Gyaman people. Adinkra means  'goodbye' or 'farewell' in Twi, under the broader family of the Akan language, sub-group of the Kwa family, under the Niger-Congo category.  The symbols represents proverbs relating to history and customs of the Asante people. Asante people usually wear clothing dyed with with the symbols on special occasions especially funerals. The Asante is said to have adapted the symbols in the 19th century from the Gyaman Kingdom.


Many stories exist as to the origins of Adinkra. Asante tradition recalls of the Asante people aquiring the Adinkra symbols via conquest of the Kingdom of Gyaman in the Nineteenth Century, during the Asante Gyaman War. The term Adinkra is stated to have come from the Gyaman king's name Nana Kofi Adinkra.

Meanings, Symbolisms, Traditions

Adinkra symbols were typically  placed on cloth. The cloth was traditionally worn by royalty and priests of the Asante people, on sacred occasions. The type of cloth reflected the status of the individual. Symbols placed on cloth were typically selected by the wearer, to convey his thoughts, values, or ideas. Cloth was not meant to be washed because of the delicate natural inks.

Two broad categories of Adinkra cloth exist: Funerary Adinkra and Sunday Adinkra or Kwasiada Adinkra, each with its own symbolism. Funerary Adinkra was worn during funerals and used dark colors: brown, red, black. Kuntunkuni used brown. Kobene used red. Red in Asante culture has symbolism of  blood and death. The closest relative of the deceased wore red. Brisi used black. Black in Asante culture conveys symbolism of hopelessness and sadness.

Sunday Adinkra or Kwasiada Adinkra, meaning fancy cloth, is inappropriate for Funeral Adinkra. Sunday Adinkra is for festive occasions, daily use. It uses bright colors red, yellow, white, blue etc.

Methods and Techniques

Ink is applied on Adinkra cloth via two methods: stamp blocks with surface relief and screen process. Traditionally, ink was applied to the surface of a stamp with relief, made of calabash or gourd material. 

Ink was made from the bark of the Badie tree and roots from the kuntunkuni tree. The Badie bark is boiled with iron debri, until turned brown. Bark is sifted and dye is applied to calabash stamp. The Kuntunkuni roots is soak in water to soften. It is soften even further by boiling to generate the black dye. Cloth is typically soak in solution and dried to turn dark. Cloth is place in a solution called sudi to generate a red garment.

Modern Usage

Today, non-Asantes use Adinkra symbols. Corporations uses it for their logo. Architects incorporate the symbols in their designs. Fashion designers uses it on their prints. 

At state funerals in Ghana, politician wear Asante Adinkra cloth. Adinkra cloth is now mass produce with batik methods. Today the town of Ntonso, nicknamed Home of Adinkra, in Ashanti region of Ghana is noted for cloth production with Adinkra symbols, using more traditional method. 

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tags: asante akan ghana