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Thursday, 14 July 2016

Did You Know Series (36): Colours of Africa: A trip to Ghana: The ancient Adinkra symbols of the Ashantis:

Did You Know Series (36): Colours of Africa: A trip to Ghana: The ancient Adinkra symbols of the Ashantis:

(This interesting post was written after our trip to Ghana in February 2013. It has been retrieved from our blog "Footloose" for wider coverage. The links to the other posts on our trip to Ghana are given below the end of this post):

What are the Adinkra symbols?

The Adinkra symbols are an age-old pictorial presentation/depiction of the values that have stood the Akans in good stead over the centuries. The Adinkra symbols are used to express feelings and sentiments that one may be undergoing at a particular moment or one is expected to follow. In effect, the Adinkra symbols are a collection of wise sayings based on the experiences of generations gone by.

The Adinkra symbols : Originally a lost Ashanti cultural heritage?

During the latter part of the nineteenth century some cultural valuables were purported to have been captured by the Ashantis from Nana Karikari Adinkra of the Gyaman kingdom of La Cote D’Ivoire during a war in which Nana Karikari Adinkra was himself killed. These “treasures” included some textile motifs which came to be identified with the name of Nana Karikari Adinkra. Thus, the Adinkra symbols have now been known to be associated with the Ashantis for more than a century now.

The war with Nana Adinkra took place because, initially his Gyaman kingdom was vassal to Ashanti, but he had defiantly made a golden stool to compare his State with the status of the Ashanti Kingdom. It is believed that a Golden stool had fallen from the heavens for  Okomfo Anokhye ,the King of the Ashantis and is much revered in Ashanti folklore, signifying his divine approval to rule as a King. (Presently, it is found in a museum in Kumasi (the second largest city in Ghana). Nana Adinkra was therefore declared an imposter, attacked by the Ashantis and slain. His “fake” golden stool, Adinkra cloths showing the Adinkra symbols and other valuables were taken to Ashanti.

 However, some years before this Ashanti-Gyaman   war, it seems that the Gyamans themselves had migrated from Ashanti during one of the Ashanti wars and crossed over to La Cote D’Ivoire apparently with Adinkra clothes and other valuables and items of Ashanti culture , since they themselves were fugitive Ashantis.

Adinkra symbols are, thus, ancient visual symbols originally created by the “Akan” people of Ghana and the “Gyaman” of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, which represent concepts or aphorisms.

Hence, it seems that the Ashantis had brought back only those items/symbols which were essentially their own cultural heritage.

Ashantis themselves were once a part of the Akan settlement near Takyiman who called themselves Abono which means first, original or inception. Before their settlement at Bono, the Akans were said to have been the descendants of a people of Northern origin called Ntafo (meaning twins in Akan).

The Akans culture and values

The Akan were very famous for their exquisite culture. Ideas and values of this culture are expressed in words that are used in ordinary language, idiomatic expressions, proverbial renditions, songs, ministrels. Sometimes these values are found in pure sounds, like the sound of the drum or the gong or the flute. These ideas are also expressed in the form of gesticulation, dancing, facial and other body movements. Colour symbolism and geometric figures too feature greatly in the communication of ideas of the Akan.

The Akan are a religious culture. In whatever one is engaged, one is fully involved in a religious experience. Hence these symbols not ony express ideas about life in general but concepts about God and religious beliefs.

          The language spoken

-      Asante Twi (pronounced Chwi) is the language /dialect spoken in the following Regions:

-      Asante, Adanse, Akyem, Abuakwa, Akyem Kotoku, Akyem Bosome, Brong-Ahafo, Kete Krakye, Kwawu, Gyaaman, New Juaben,  Sahwi, Twiforo, Wasa, Asen, Dankyira Sahwi.

-      The language has seven vowels with the approximate equivalent phonetic sounds of the letters being as follows:

-       “A” as in gather

-      “E” as in hate

-      “e” as in set

-      “I” as in see

-      “O” as in coal

-      (Reverse C) as in pot

-      “U” as in food

The Adinkra symbols in detail:

1)  GYE NYAME – Except God

(This symbol stands for the Omniscience and Omnipotence of God)

“Nyame” means “God” who has created the Universe. The “Gye Nyame” means “except for God” and signifies the all-knowing Power of God. A detailed meaning of this symbol is described as “this great panorama of Creation dates back to time immemorial, no one lives who saw its beginning and no one will live to see its end, EXCEPT GOD. God knows everything that the human mind cannot even conceive or comprehend”.

This symbol is also a reflection of the religious character of the Akan people.

The Gye Nyame symbol is the best known Adinkra symbol. This is the most popular symbol of the Akan and can be seen everywhere in daily life. It is used in decorations, clothing and Artwork, on chairs, on cars, in shops, in residences, particularly in the Chiefs’ palaces etc.

2)  SUNSUM – Spirit or soul

This symbol represents human spirituality as opposed to human body –physical self. This symbol urges one to look at the beauty and immortality of the human soul and its unique connection with the forces of the Universe and be constantly connected with and be at peace with one’s inner self.

3)  NYAME NNWU NA MAWU – God does not die, therefore as I am a part of Him, I cannot die either

This symbol represents human faith in the existence of God and the immortality of the human spirit/soul as human beings are the highest form of evolution of life forms, the high point of God’s creation or said to be created in His own image. In other words, while the physical human body is subject to decay, the spirit will live on forever. This symbol is therefore an extension of the SUNSUM symbol.

4)  HWeMUDUA – Measuring Rod or Scales

This symbol represents fairness in human dealings throughout life. Its presence teaches a person never to indulge in wrong-doing , misappropriation, cheat in any way and be courteous and kind to his fellow human beings, because, one’s righteousness will be judged on the scales of right or wrong done in one’s life at the time the human soul transcends the physical body to meet its maker (God).

5)  MMUSUYIDEe – A sacrificial offering

This symbol represents an offering as a sacrifice to a deity for obtaining favours or avoiding bad luck. This is in keeping with the tradition in several communities to offer sacrifices to propitiate the revered deities. Human beings are superstitious and it devolves on the head of the family or the clan to perform these rituals which will grant the members protection and spiritual purification. As an integral part of the rituals, goats, fowl, sheep, deer /antelopes are offered as sacrifices along with food grains, flowers etc.

6)  NYAME DUA – Altar of God: A place of worship

“Dua” in Urdu/Arabic means blessing and in the case of this symbol it could also be interpreted as “God’s Blessings”.

 “Nyame Dua” is a “special species of plant with three pointed branches” which are trimmed to shape out a kind of seat for a pot or a brass bowl. The bowl is filled with water or other ritualistic items.

The ancient Akan used to worship under this tree, hence it was treated as an altar of God. The area where the tree grew was designated as a sacred place/space where cleanliness, strict discipline was always maintained.

The shrine or tabernacle gives the Akan of the assurance of God or their protective deity presiding over their welfare. The clan would express their greetings and praises as they would pass by. Others would sit near the tree and meditate or spend some time asking/praying for divine blessings/intervention on their needs/wants and help in times of crises. Sometimes food in the nature of yam and eggs etc. would be offered to propitiate the Presiding Deity.

7)  PEMPAMSIE – stitching or weaving pieces together

This symbol represents patchwork and is symbolic of sewing or stitching together the remnants of fabric to serve in times of need. In other words, this symbol represents gathering of available resources to keep in store for the lean season/period, like the ants do for the winters in their anthills.

8)  HYE WOeNHYE – Fire proof 

This symbol represents the overall protection of the Divine Forces to the clan in times of need, crises as well as in good times. In other words, in times of trouble, trials and tribulations, the divine forces will always be there to protect the true followers.

9)  NYAME BIRIBI W(REVERSE C) SORO – There is something in the Heavens, God let me  have it

This symbol represents Hope in God’s Providence and Bounty. The Heavens above the Earth is a priceless gift from God. It gives us light, warmth through the Sun which replenishes the store of oxygen in the atmosphere through the breathing of the trees and brings new life, the rain clouds bring us water for human survival and growth of our agricultural resources etc.

10)      NYAME NTI MENNWE AHAHAN – by the grace and blessings of God, I will not eat raw leaves like an animal.

This is a symbol of God’s Providence. Through God’s unseen presence and his all-pervading hand in everything that governs the Universe, the needs of every living creature are provided for. We as human beings who have been given the power of rational thinking must always be grateful to God for his bounty.

11)      SANK(REVERSE C)FA – Go and bring it back

This symbol urges the Akan to rediscover their cultural heritage and take pride in their past glories and culture. Going back to our roots will reinforce our basic principles of right and wrong and the difference between good and evil. The Akan culture enjoins its members to show upright manners, an attitude of reverence to the elderly and the teachers and give love affection and respect to their parents.

12)      DWENINMMEeN – Horns of a Ram

This  is a symbol of strength. The Ram stands in confidence with horns strong and firm. Its strength perpetuates peace around him and portrays self-respect, self-composure and discipline. He does not use his strength as a bully, unless it is provoked or challenged. The Akan must learn from and pattern themselves on the Ram and be strong and self disciplined.

13)      AKOK(REVERSE C) NAN TIA BA NA ENKUM BA – A hen steps on its chicks, but does not kill them

This symbol indicates discipline and the essence of punitive, though corrective measures. It reasons that to discipline its chicks “a hen steps on them, but not so as to kill them”.

In other words, this symbol suggests that one should discipline a recalcitrant or unruly child (spanking or similar punitive measures) or member of the community (exemplary punishment) but only to make him a law-abiding and responsible member of the clan. Discipline through loving and corrective training will lead to responsibility on the part of those who experience it.

14)      K(REVERSE C)DEe MM(REVERSE C)WEReWA – Talons or Claws of an Eagle

This symbol represents the talons or claws of an Eagle. The Eagle is a large broad-winged bird of prey having large hooked beaks, strong legs with curved talons, found mostly in the remote mountainous regions. It builds its nest high up in the mountainous rocks from where it can watch over its territory far and wide and be ready to defend it against any intruders. This is how the Akan should pattern themselves .

15)      (REVERSE C)W(REVERSE C) K(REVERSE C)FORO ADOBe – the snake will climb the raffia palm tree

This is a symbol which indicates careful planning, determination and efforts to achieve one’s goal, just as the snake which has no feet but still manages to climb the Raffia palm tree by moving up the tree-trunk in a spiral manner.

16)      FUNTUMFUNAFU DeNKYeMFUNAFU – Siamese twins crocodiles

This is a symbol of Unity in Diversity, two beings joined together with a common destiny. The symbol has two crocodiles which are joined together at the stomach. They feed the same stomach but for no apparent reason can fight over food.

In other words, a partnership is a common enterprise and may comprise two people with diverse views, nevertheless the set goals can be achieved if they work towards the same common goal with utmost devotion. Two people/minds are always better than one at formulating a pathway towards achieving a common goal. In a similar manner if the Community works together, every target can be easily achieved.

17)      (REVERSE C)DeNKYeM – Crocodile, Prudence, Behaviour

This symbol represents propriety and environmental influence. ODeNKYeM (or Crocodile) lives in water but comes out to breathe air as it cannot breathe in the water.

In this World there are factors that determine our way to exist or live as we are. Conditions force or influence our habits and behaviour. The ODeNKYeM is swift and confident when it is in water but it is sluggish when it is on dry land. The environmental changes influence its agile self.

Similarly, when one comes to unfamiliar surroundings he/she may be faced with unfamiliar situations, different climatic conditions, different cultures etc. These may result in economic hardships, particularly when one travels to foreign lands or areas in search of a better life. Thus this symbol warns of attendant hardships if one moves out of his familiar environment.

18)      OBI NKA OBI KWA – No one bites the other without reason

This symbol is one of investigation for the sake of peace.

God has given us perception of the nature and meaning of things, proper reasoning will result in sound judgment and judicious decision making,  as well as, we have the ability to discern spiritual truth and to apply it to human conduct. This would require proper investigation into a problem before one rushes into action/judgment.

Insight is akin to wisdom and understanding as opposed to prejudice which is a preconceived bias towards places, people,  ideas and religions.

Sometimes this prejudice is so firmly rooted that it resists all contrary evidence which is what the Akan should guard against.

19)      (REVERSE C)SRANE  NE NSROROMA – Moon and a Star 


This symbol represents faithfulness in companionship and reminds one of the constant relationship between the moon and the star. It stresses that two friends though born of different families can be more loyal than brothers. Those who show commitment from the heart, care, love, and support in times of need are your true well-wishers and companions. Such relationships should be cultivated.

20)      NSOROMA –Star

This is a symbol of hope and protective care (Guardianship). A star clearly lights up in the night sky and acts as a constant companion and guide. To ancient civilisations, they foretold the coming of events and have since developed into the science of Astrology. One must constantly take guidance and comfort  from the Stars when one is uncertain of the direction/steps to take.

21)      NYA AKOMA –Relax/Take heart/Be patient

This symbol teaches one to take heart even in times of adversity and be patient, because with the turning of the Wheel of Fortune, nothing is permanent. Good times always follow bad times or times of adversity.

22)      AKOMA NTOASO(REVERSE C) – Linked Hearts

This symbol represents togetherness or a committed relationship. This attribute can be seen between couples where a man and a woman are bound together in marriage in a permanent relationship. By a similar analogy, a family or close friends can also be bound together in loving care and concern.

23)      (REVERSE C)D(REVERSE C) NNYEW FIE KWAN – Love does not miss the way home

This is a symbol of love and friendship. Whenever one is going to meet a loved one or a friend, the long arduous road is dotted by memories which are pleasant, full of joy, laughter, peace and happiness in anticipation of the coming meeting. One must cultivate sush friendships that promotes such a culture.

24)      GYAWU ATIK(REVERSE C) – Back of Gyawu’s head

This symbol represents a special hair-cut reserved for an Ashanti General and is a symbol of gallantry. A Gyawu, a brave warrior would ride his horse after a victory wearing a garment with talismans studded into the fabric and wears some talisman on his arms and wrists. While the crowds of onlookers cheer his exploits, his funny looking haircut attracts an equal number of jeers, behind his back.

This is symbolic of how people praise you on your face but resort to back-biting when one’s back is turned and the discerning person should take his successes in his stride and not be carried away with praises heaped upon one by selfish sycophants and back-stabbers.

25)      NKOTIMSEFO(REVERSE C) PUAA –Hair style of the Serving Maidens in the Ashanti Queen Mother’s court

This symbol represents Service. At the Royal Palace, there are many women who are dedicated to the service of the Royal household. Servants at these households are placed in graded ranks. For example, the Ashanti have the Nkotimsefo (with particular hair style) Mmodwoafo(Reverse C) again having a particular hair style to show their rank.

26)      (REVERSE C)HENE ANIWA – The King’s Eyes

This is a symbol of vigilance, watchfulness and intelligence.

The eyes are the part of the body which are designed for seeing and to be ever vigilant. Eyes are associated with light, watchfulness or spiritual understanding, whereas blindness is a metaphor for darkness.

The King’s eye, his and his intelligence/spy network is always in a state of being alert and expectant. The King’s watchfulness over his people in danger or trouble makes sure that his people’s needs are always met, he hears their pleas and prayers. The people are vulnerable without the King’s watchfulness.

27)      Esee ne TeKYEReMA – TEETH AND TONGUE

This is a symbol of co-operation in spite of petty squabbles and differences.

Just as the tongue and the teeth live together in the mouth. They “discuss and formulate plans” to improve the lot of the person having them. They believe in tranquilty but sometimes the teeth bite and hurt the tongue sometimes even making it bleed. When things cool down they live in peaceful co-existence again in the mouth. All is forgiven.

Harmonious co-existence brings peace in the lives of people. Each one should help the other and attend to the welfare of the other, notwithstanding differences of opinion, petty squabbles etc. They must realize that unnecessarily taking extreme or rigid stands on their view points may create a friction between them bringing about unpleasantness which should best be avoided.

28)      ABAN – Colonial Office with legislative and executive powers

This is a symbol of power and authority. “Aban” is the official seat of the colonial administrators (usually operating from a fort). These appointed officials of the Crown are empowered to exercise authority for the good of those they govern and punish those who do wrong.

29)      FIHANKRA – Complete circuit house or enclosed dwelling

This is a symbol of security and shelter. “Open Houses” are vulnerable, not being well protected and can be easily attacked. “Enclosed houses” on the other hand offer the best security against intruders and cordial relationship between the inhabitants, even if there are several families staying together (joint family system). Inhabitants dwelling in these houses share the food cooked by their families and live in harmony, content with the knowledge that they are safe and secure.

30)      MFRAMADAN – Wind House

This is a symbol of security and solid foundation. A good foundation is akin to forming a good behaviour based on faith upon each other and the knowledge that members of the community will help each other in times of need.

31)      DUA AFE – Wooden Comb

This is a symbol of cleanliness, beauty and grooming. Cleanliness, careful and fastidious attention to personal hygiene is particularly important in promoting a pleasant appearance. Properly combed hair make a person look smart, attractive and presentable.

32)      AKOFENA – Sword/War sword

This is a symbol of Authority. A king swears the oath of allegiance at his enthronement and to protect and defend his kingdom while ruling with justice and integrity, under all circumstances. This he swears on the Afena (or sword). Afena is a symbol of a King’s Authority used at special functions. A sword, a hand-wielded blade is commonly used as a symbol of aggression, power and authority.

33)      PA GYA – Flint is a hard stone used in stone ages to induce/light a fire

This is a symbol of mlitancy, readiness in combat.  Pa Gya is a type of gun fired by gun powder. A hunter or warrior of old could not achieve his aim without ample reserve of gun powder kept at hand for ready use.

34)      AKOBeN – War Horn

This is a symbol of readiness and alertness. Sounds of the Horn herald the outbreak of war or danger. To go to war or not is a decision made by the King who in consultation with his elders will deliberate on the pros and cons about going to war. The horn is never sounded until the consultations with all allied kingdoms are held/concluded.

No one starts a war without preparing grounds. It was also important to take into account the number of men who would take the field of battle on both sides and armament and ammunition held by the Allies and that held by the enemy.     

35.(REVERSE C)HENE TUO – The gun of a King

This is the symbol of the King in his capacity as the Commander in Chief and War Leader. (Reverse C)HENE TUO  does not fire at random. It is only used as a last resort for the benefit of the kingdom.

The King in consultation with his advisors and elders takes a firm decision, taking into consideration the effect it will have on his kingdom.

The gun is also fired when the King summons his people to war or when a prominent member of the Royal Family dies. This is a method of announcing that the King is in grief.

After this announcement loyal servants will douse the fires in their households and would fast in grief. There is an old saying “Efie gya adum” meaning the “Fire has gone out”. It means the one who has provided for their daily bread is gone and there is no need to light the fire because there is nothing provided for to cook.

36.SeP(REVERSE C) – Executioner’s knife thrust through the cheeks and tongue to prevent cursing before death penalty is executed

This is a very painful, cruel and protracted form of execution leading to bleeding to death. This form of execution is administered as a deterrent to rebellion against Authorities or Rulers, without any means of defence or chance to the prisoner to explain his position, and the prisoner is left to die through loss of blood. Sometimes there is a rash judgment by the Ruler but people are too scared or intimidated to come to the victim’s aid.

37)Epa – Stocks or handcuffs

This is a symbol of imprisonment, restricted movement or confinement.

38)NYANSAP(REVERSE C) – Wisdom knot

This is a symbol of wise counsel and wise decision Wisdom is the ability to arrive at a decision after due consideration of all the factors involved.

39)MPATA – P((REVERSE C) – Pacification Knot or Peace deal

This is a symbol of peacemaking, reconciliation and reparation. Akan forefathers settled disputes in their families amicably because they believed that discordant relations/conditions brought curses upon the family. They made attempts to always settle the differences.

Each member of the family/community was made to swear an oath that he or she would change his or her behaviour so as not to bring about any more conflicts. Necessary rituals were performed by pouring libations, making penance, retribution and reparation.

40)KRADO OR MMRA KRADO – Padlock or Seal of the Law

This Seal is a symbol of security, authority, law and justice.

The Seal of Law is the God-given regulation of the life of the people in their relationship to God.

As the command of God, it enables and gives shape to the relationship between God and human beings on the one hand and between fellow human beings on the other hand.

 The Law covers and regulates every area of life of the people. Although the Law may be divided into categories of civil, criminal, social or cultic (or ritual) Law, civil authorities are supposedly “divinely” appointed servants and “agents” of God exercising their God-given authority for the good of those they govern and punishing those who do not conform and do wrong. All must submit to God’s Law.

41) DONO DRUM/HOURGLASS DRUM – Symbol of communication, both physical and spiritual

This is a symbol of communication – both physical and spiritual. Dono is a drum used by most African societies or clans. It is made out of a hollowed-out piece of timber, with hide stretched taut over both ends. Tension strings run from the ends of the covering hides. The required tension on the drum is affected by squeezing the strings in the armpits. Squeezing on the strings results in the production of a perfect sound.

Dono is the main instrument in many West African musical assemblies. It is played to honour or to give thanks and to console.There is a common expression to illustrate how a person is feeling: “Ma mia tese dono” meaning “I am hard pressed” or under pressure or “tensed up”.

42)NSAA – Specially woven fabric used as a blanket (Bommo)

This is a symbol of prestige, excellence and treasure. Wealth is sometimes determined by the material things people possess. Every family is possessive of what they have and will pass on as heritage to their off-spring. This legacy is valuable and treasured by all. Among these valuable possessions, one can name “Nsaa” as outstanding.

It is said to be a privilege to pawn all one’s belongings to be the proud owner of Nsaa, even if it is an old one. Nsaa is a prestigious woven blanket, easily recognised by the elite. Knowledge of the blanket is an asset to help people not to buy a fake one.

43)  NKYeMU – Dividing or Boundaries

This is a symbol of stability and control. The lines depicted here are made with a wooden comb to divide one Adinkra symbol from another in the cloth, in order to maintain neat, beautiful and clear prints. If this is not done, the cloth would show a confused jumble of stamped symbols.

This is an analogy to the boundaries of the World, the agreed limits to the lands of an individual or people. Designated by God and protected by Law, both National and local boundaries should be guarded and protected, particularly in cases of disputes.

44)ANI BERE A ENS(REVERSE C)GYA – Eyes do not light up when worried

This is a symbol of endurance. When a person is worried or experiences uneasiness, anxiety, pain or distress, either physical or emotional, his eyes do not spark fire or light up. It is then that the ability to endure through the difficult times is tested.

45)EFIE MMOSEA – Courtyard gravel

This is a symbol of the enemy within. The gravel in the courtyard of a house does not serve as a decoration piece but is  effective in signalling intrusions into the courtyard. No one expects any danger from the gravel, but it can cut you or one may slip on it. Therefore one has to tread carefully on it, lest it may harm you.

46)KONTIRE NE AKWAMU – Two Royal Deputies of the Ashanti Chieftain.

This is a symbol of good counsel and goes with the Akan proverb that “One head does not go into counsel” (“Tikrono nk(Reverse C) agyina”). Consultation or good counsel is essential for gaining wisdom, though human advice is not always reliable.

47)DAME DAME – A Game of Draughts

This is a symbol of Intelligence, ingenuity, reasonable decisions. Draughts is a Board game for two players patterned on an old Egyptian game. The 12 disc shaped pieces are moved across the Board with skill so as to outwit the opponent and capture his pieces with a view to win the game.

 Similarly, intelligence is the natural ability to acquire knowledge and to learn skills.

48)TABONO – Paddle

Fishermen use Tabono which is a long pole with a wide blade at one end to row or steer a boat. The process is to make it easy for the fishermen to control and manoeuvre the boat on water. There is a wise saying “paddle your own canoe”, which urges one to be concerned with one’s own affairs.


This symbol is one of Unity or Bondage. Chains are metal rings connected to or fitted into one another used for fastening or harness, both physical and spiritual, but also to join together in unity.

50)BATAKARI AMMA YeANHU KRAMO – The smock confuses one from identifying a Muslim

This is a symbol of deception. It is always difficult to differentiate between a Muslim and a Northerner from Ghana because they both wear smocks (Batakari). Deception in words or action are deliberately intended to make people believe those things that are not true. In olden times, this would not be construed as a “racist” line of thought, but more as a means to be cautious and to defend the integrity/boundaries of the Akan kingdom/lands from disguised adversaries.

51)AGYEN DAWURO – The gong-gong bells of Agyen

This is a symbol of a Messenger. Literally, “Agyen Dawura” is said to be a plant that announces its presence with the sweet fragrance from its flowers. (This symbolism is identical to the “Iris” flower, Iris being a female Messenger to the Greek Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, the King of the Gods).

52)KUNTAN KANTAN – Throwing one’s weight about or showing off or Pride or Boastfulness

This is a symbol of Arrogance which results from delusions of greatness on account of one’s achievements, status, wealth or possession.


This is a symbol of knowledge, wisdom and confidentiality. People are often asked to keep secrets. Unsolicited information and idle talk which foolishly or maliciously spreads rumours or distorted facts are termed as gossip and considered to be derisive and destructive. Everyone should refrain from this meaningless chatter. 

54)ADINKRA HENE – The King of Adinkra

This is a symbol of greatness, maturity, prudence, firmness and magnanimity.

The set up of Akan culture is such that the people look up to the elderly man as a leader in their community.

He is characterised by carefulness, wise discernment, avoidance of rash behaviour or speech, good management of talents and resources and showing tact and wisdom in relationship with other people.

It is common practice among the Akan to delegate a young man to be with the elders so that he may learn from their rich experience, and be able to quote and explain and apply the proverbs and from the experience gained appropriately.

55)AKYINKYIN – Wanderings, roaming or on the migration route

This is a symbol representing adaptability under any circumstances, howsoever difficult, just as a traveller may find conditions adverse to him in terms of terrain, climate, food and social habits etc.

56)MFOFOO – The Bidens pilosa plant 

This is a symbol of selfishness and malicious intent.

57)BESE SAKA – Bunch of Cola Nuts

This is a symbol of prosperity, social stability and affluence. “Bese”(Cola) is a West African tree whose nut is used as a condiment, tonic and antidote to alcohol. “Saka” is a collection of Cola nuts.

58)AYA – Fern

This is a symbol of hardship, endurance and the will to exist. The Fern is a perennial leafy plant, found mostly in shady damp tropical regions, apart from having a wide distribution in other areas as well. It is known to survive even in the harshest of terrains and it will strive to flourish under any conditions – conducive or adverse. Every member of the Akan community should pattern himself/herself on the survival instincts of the Fern.

59)NNYEGYEe – Provocation

This is a symbol of harassment and temptation. The evil ones will do anything to get you annoyed and lead you into an argument. There is an old saying that “if you are in a bath and a mad man comes and takes away your clothes, if you chase after the mad man naked, then passersby will think that you are the madman”.  Thus, the symbol urges one to act wisely in the face of unjust/deliberate provocation.

60)TAMFO BeBRe – The Adversary shall despair

This is a symbol of faith in spite of Persecution. Conspirators with malicious plots sometimes plan to harm or kill or do deeds to other people which are motivated by selfish aspirations. The symbol encourages the persecuted to take faith and do not despair as the Persecutors will be defeated with the passage of time.

61)  OWUO ATWEDEe – the ladder of Death

This symbol proclaims the universality of death which will come to all. The ladder will not be reserved for one person or a selected few only. Where does the ladder take everyone – this is still a mystery. The ladder’s presence is never announced.  Although it brings grief to the near and dear ones one must accept the certainty with which everyone will climb the ladder.

62)MPABOA – Sandals

This is a symbol of authority and the readiness to go anywhere.

Sandals are usually made with animal hide soles strapped at the top over the feet with soft leather, worn in warm climates to protect the feet. Sandals form an important part in the paraphernalia or the outfit of a King of the Akans.They are symbols of power. A King is never seen without his sandals. He stands to lose his throne when his bare feet touch the ground. When a King is being dethroned, there is a tradition that his sandals are taken from his feet and placed on his head as a symbolic gesture that his Rule/Authority has ended. One does not approach an Akan King in his sandals which is seen as a mark of disrespect.


Tears fall from the eyes of a lover as a result of grief or other emotion. Grief shows a human response to painful and distressing life situations, a sense of despondency or sadness often linked with disappointment or loss. Everyone wants to be at peace, cheerful but inevitably sad occasions do come.

64)NSEREWA – Cowries

A cowry is a shell of small gastropod found in and around the Gulf of Guinea and used as money in Africa. A person’s standing in Society is determined by his wealth or money.

65)EFIE NE AB(REVERSE C) NE AB(REVERSE C)NTEN ADEe A eW(REVERSE C)FIE – Whatever exists outside, exists also in the house

This is a symbol which stands for morality. Human beings are made of body and soul. They take interest both in social and moral activities. We are created with a conscience and have been given a moral law through the practices/collective wisdom of our ancestors. It devolves on us to stem any moral and social decay. It would be prudent to remember that whenever we are dealing with situations in the outside world or chasing to acquire things in the outside World, we must remember to apply the same moral standards that we apply to our own household or our own selves. Also, we have everything in our own houses and should be content with what has been given to us and what we can righteously acquire, instead of coveting other people’s possessions.

66)ASETENA PA MA AWIRe FIRE – Cordial existence creates complacency

This is a symbol of ungratefulness. Earnestness and perseverance in presenting requests to people in a position to help, on behalf of oneself or others is shown when one is after a favour. Once the favour is granted, it is human nature to forget the person who has helped one achieve the favour.

 Only a few people remember the person who had granted the favour and are grateful for the same.


Fetish priests are known to give account of their powers and successes, but fail to mention their failures. In other words, their lengthy boasts of victories/successes are only an opportunity to impress their clients.

68)OBI NTUTU ANOMAA HO NA W(REVERSE C)NFA NKYERe PANIN – (BIRD FEATHERS) – No one plucks he feathers of a bird and shows it  for identification

The feathers are an important part of identifying a Bird species. Without the feathers, birds lose their identity and are hardly recognisable.

 An Akan adage mentions that it is wrong to ask someone to identify a bird after its feathers are plucked.

Similarly, it is wrong to hide the truth or facts of a matter and ask for someone’s opinion or seek answers/solutions to the issue confronting a person.  One must present all the known facts regarding a problem, before seeking solutions from someone.

69)AHWENE – PA NKASA KYERe AWURUWRO – Inferior beads make the most sound

This symbol indicates that empty barrels will make the most sound. Beads (Ahwene) are an important part of a woman’s wardrobe and are usually worn as necklaces, bracelets and around the waist.

Some beads are expensive while others are cheap. The cheap beads make the most sound. The Akan proverb represented by this symbol proclaims as such. One should be wary of any person who makes empty boasts.

70)BESE PA AHAHAN BESE – PA AHAHAN NE KONINI AHAHAN – Yete No Banimdifo(reverse c), enye Banyasafo(reverse c) – Symbol of knowledge

It takes knowledge to differentiate between “Bese – pa ahahan (cola tree leaf) and Konini “ahahan”. These leafs look alike. It is said that a person with “knowledge” can tell the leaves apart, simply being “wise” does not help in this task. There are certain customary rituals which demand the experience and knowledge of elderly persons who have the knowledge to perform such rituals from whom the wise men should learn before becoming knowledgeable themselves.

71)NWA – Snail

The Nwa is a symbol of peace. This is because while the hunters wrestle and shoot other wild animals, the snail remains quiet in its shell. An Akan proverb mentions “left to the snail and tortoise, there will be no gun firing in the forest”. This means that one can easily pick up the snail and the tortoise with ease without any struggle or violence.

72)FLY WANSENA NNI BI MPO A W(REVERSE C)POSA NE NSeM – Even if a fly has nothing to offer, it rubs its hands – genuine generosity

Being generous is an unselfish desire to give money, help and kindness even if one has very little. The virtue to share with others what one has is one of the most noble virtues. We must not lose courage and determination to share what we have, even if we are unable to give large amounts as gifts ,while others may afford to do so.

73) eBAN – Fence, Safety and Security

This is a symbol of security. A wall or bank built across a river to keep back water from overflowing is known as ”eBAN"  These structures are also installed to keep out intruders and offer safety.


This symbol stands for vitality, enlightenment and intensity of the Sun’s light. The day dawns and brings the Sun dancing with radiant light exposing all what the night had covered the night before. The Sun’s presence is felt by the light and heat it emits. Everyone must emulate the Sun’s radiance in social life and at all times.

75)(REVERSE C)YERE – PA – (REVERSE C) baa – pa

This symbol stands for “Perfect woman or Perfect wife”. 

76)MMERe DANE – Time changes, life changes

Our life in this World is such that we should expect good times and bad times in the changing Wheel of Fortune. We must prepare ourselves and be ready for any eventuality.

77)D(REVERSE C)ME NA ME ND(REVERSE C) WO BI – Love one another

This symbol is a symbol of fraternity and it stands for “Scratch my back and I will do likewise for you”. There is an Akan saying which gives the true meaning of this symbol “Benkum dware nifa na nifa nso dware benkum” meaning “the left hand washes the right hand and the right hand also washes the left hand”.

Our life on Earth is such that we all depend on each other spiritually or materially. People look to one another for encouragement and support.

78)KATA WODEeSO – NA BUE ME DEeSO – Cover your deeds and open mine to ridicule

This is a symbol that shows that criticising negatively is a symbol of hypocrisy.

Judgement or valuation of others often has negative associations, implying a harsh or disapproving estimate of people or their actions, these judgemental and hypocritical behaviour tend to divide us from others.

79)ASASE Ye DURU – Sanctity of Mother Earth

This is a symbol of affection. Since creation, Mother Earth has nurtured and sustained mankind with abundant food and care for comfort.

It is not uncommon for the creator to be seen as male and associated with the creation of the Universe, while the female aspect of divinity is materially and often seen as “Mother Earth”, as human beings we are both spirit and matter and share in the nature of both.

Akans do not only worship a transcendental God, they also praise nature, often personified as Mother Earth – “Asase Yaa” (Female gender born on Thursday in Akan custom). Many share the belief in Mother Earth that after our life on earth is ended, she will welcome us to lie peacefully in her bosom.

80)ADU – WHAM – Fragrance, sweet smell or aroma

This symbol stands for a fragrant perfume. There is an Akan saying “A little fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers”.

81)YeNTENA NSERE – Let us live in harmony

This is a symbol of brotherliness and belonging.

82)WAWA ABA – Wawa seed

This is a symbol of great potential and hardiness. Wawa is a species of tropical rain forest trees.

It grows to a huge size and has numerous uses. Seed is a plant’s unit of reproduction or germination into another similar plant and a means of propagating life from one generation to another. Figuratively speaking, the term illustrates principles of spiritual growth and spiritual life. Just as growth of plants depends upon soil, sun and irrigation, our spiritual growth also depends on trust upon people who are wiser and more experienced than us.

83)ADWO/ADWE – Calmness – It is finished

This is a symbol of a peaceful end and calmness. Calm, peaceful and restrained attitude is portrayed to end upheavals. There is a calm after the storm. The outcome of sequences of actions or events. It is common in our daily lives to get into disagreements, creating disharmony, bitterness rancour but when one faction gives up, it is peaceful in most cases and all is forgiven.

(The above Post has been researched and compiled by Rajeev Prasad based on information gathered during our recent trip to Ghana during the month of February 2013 when we were visiting our Friend Arvind in the Ashanti Region).


1) Lake Bosumchwe or Bosumchwi, Ghana


  1. Very interesting article. The symbols are wonderful.


    1. Thank you, Sheela for your encouraging comment.