Monday, February 8, 2016

Adinkra Symbols and Heart

In Michigan I was able to take a little beading class using copper wire.  I wasn't able to finish the piece at the time and then found later I did not bring enough beads home.  Thankfully, the greens and purples were of various colors and I was able to go through my stash and find enough similar beads.  As I finished my pendant, the heart shape with spirals reminded me of Adinkra symbols that one sees everywhere in Ghana.  So I looked them up.  This shape reminds me of these two: Asase ye duru and Sankofa.
The symbols are thought to have come to Ghana via the Asante people from conquered king in Côte D’Ivoire and have been dated from preserved textiles from at least the early part of the 19th century. 
Historically the images were printed on fabric using gourd stamps, printed with ink made from bark and roots boiled with iron scraps to make a dark brown color.
Now the modern methods are used including screen printing and batiks.
The symbols are found all over southern Ghana today.  In addition to fabrics, they are frequently seen in cement blocks and even plastic chairs.  Gye Nyame, meaning 'God is supreme', is the most common symbol I have seen.  At a hotel I stayed at, the symbol was also described as meaning 'protection' but I have not seen that attribution anywhere else. 
Ghanaians seem to be a very religious people and considered themselves monotheists even before modern times.  (Read this scholarly article if you want more information.  It is missing the attribution but seems to have been written by Kwasi Bempong and possibly part of his 2003 thesis Barbarous Magnificence the Decline and Continuity of Akan Traditional Religious Practices.)  Today in Southern Ghana, where I live, Christianity is in evidence everywhere.  Taxi names, business names and hymns are sung almost everywhere and it seems to have replaced or maybe reframed the already religious nature of the Ghanaian people.  It is possible these symbols are also popular in the more Muslim north, however, I have not visited that area and other tribes are predominate there.
The Adinkra symbols often have proverbs associated with them such as the ones I mentioned earlier; Asase ye duru:  'all power emanates from the earth' and 'the earth is heavier than the sea.'  or Sankofa:  'It is not taboo to return to fetch something you forgot earlier on.'
Adrinka symbols are still created today.  The newest being a symbol to commemorate Ghana's independence.  To see even more symbols visit here.

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