Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used extensively in fabrics, pottery, logos and advertising. They are incorporated into walls and other architectural features. Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional akan gold weights. The symbols are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use. Tourism has led to new departures in the use of the symbols in such items as T shirts and jewelry.

The symbols have a decorative function but also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment. There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with proverbs. In the words of Anthony Appiah, they were one of the means in a pre-litrate society for "supporting the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief".

African oral tradition dates the arrival of adinkra among the Akan to the end of the 1818 Asante-Gyaman War. However, the Englishman Thomas Edward Bowdich collected a piece of adinkra cloth in 1817, which demonstrates that adinkra art existed before the traditional starting date. Bowdich obtained this cotton cloth in Kumasi, a city in south-central Ghana. The patterns were printed using carved calabash stamps and a vegetable-based dye. The cloth features fifteen stamped symbols, including nsroma (stars), dono ntoasuo (double Dono drums), and diamonds. It is now in the British Museum.
The next oldest piece of adinkra textile was sent in 1825 from the Elmina Castle to the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities in The Hague, in response to an assignment from Major F. Last, who was appointed temporary Commander of Dutch possessions along the Guinea Coast. He probably had the cloth commissioned for King William I, which would explain why the Dutch coat of arms is in the centre. The other motifs are typical of the older adinkras. It is now on display in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.

Adinkra cloths were traditionally only worn by royalty and spiritual leaders for funerals and other special occasions. They are now worn by anyone, stylishly wrapped around women or men on any special occasion. In the past they were hand printed on undyed, red, dark brown or black hand-woven cotton fabric depending on the occasion and the wearer's role; nowadays they are frequently mass-produced on brighter coloured fabrics.

The present centre of traditional production of adinkra cloth is Ntonso, 20 km northwest of Kumasi. Dark Adinkra aduro pigment for the stamping is made there, by soaking, pulverizing, and boiling the inner bark and roots of the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata, known as Badie) in water over a wood fire. Once the dark colour is released, the mixture is strained, and then boiled for several more hours until it thickens. The stamps are carved out of the bottom of a calabash piece. They measure between five and eight centimetres square. They have a handle on the back, and the stamp itself is slightly curved, so that the dye can be put on with a rocking motion.


Here is a presentation of the most known Adinkras

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