“What Do These Symbols Mean?”
By Danya Mason
As our group has traveled in Ghana, we have noticed symbols, called Adinkra, everywhere. Whether we are attending lectures at the International House, visiting places like Kakum National Park, or gazing at the beautiful jewelry crafted by local artists, Adinkra are ever present in the rich culture here. Naturally, my curiosity grew on finding the origin, deeper meaning, and the importance people attach to them.
Adinkra symbols emerged in popularity at the end of a war in 1818 between the Asante Empire, located in what is now modern day Ghana, and the Gyaman Kingdom, located in modern day Côte D’Ivoire. Nana Kofi Adinkra was the king of Gyaman, but unfortunately, he was captured by the Asantes for replicating the “Golden Stool”, which represents absolute power descended from the heavens to the Asantes. He was soon killed for this offense, resulting in the Gyaman kingdom becoming an Asante territory. Also, Adinkra means “goodbye” or “farewell” in Twi, a common language spoken in Ghana, so it signified the fall of the Gyaman kingdom and Nana Kofi Adinkra. Since the symbols were already a part of life in the Gyaman kingdom, they soon became integrated into Asante culture.
Adinkra symbols hold great significance to Ghanaians now because they are reflective of Asante history and contain great wisdom of how one’s life should be influenced. Though I have come from a different culture, I have found myself to grow attached to a couple of Adinkra in correlation with my life, which are named Sankofa and Gye Nyame.
Sankofa, which has a direct translation of, “return and fetch it,” is an Adinkra focused heavily on learning from the past. An individual must use past experiences in order to learn from one’s mistakes, form a better future, and gain wisdom.
I hold myself firmly to this Adinkra because if I did not have the opportunity to make mistakes in life, I would learn nothing, I would be shallow to those who make mistakes, and I would never have the chance to be enriched with wisdom. The first experience in life that hit me in this way was when I auditioned to be a drill team officer in high school. The first time I auditioned, I failed and did not make it, which hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel that if I had succeeded with becoming a drill team officer the first time, I would see no flaw in myself and have no reason to better myself. As the next year rolled around for auditions again, I had taken extra dance and leadership classes and reevaluated my approach toward the judges at auditions. Fortunately, this led to my success in becoming a drill team officer.
Gye Nyame has a direct translation of, “except God”, which signifies the immortality of God. The deeper meaning is as follows: nobody lived to see the beginning of time, and nobody will live to see the end, except God.
With closer examination of the Gye Nyame symbol, one can see that it shows a person being held inside the hands of God. I have seen this Adinkra in almost every market that sells art and even on the International House building at the University of Ghana. I feel that the strong presence of God in Ghana parallels with the strong presence of God in East Texas. Though I am thousands of miles away from home, the immortality and comfort of God continues to linger.
For more Adinkra symbols, you can visit: