Adinkra stamps
by John Nash

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The making of Adinkra cloths is a long established tradition among the Ashanti people of Ghana. The center of this production is the town of Ntonso, one of the craft-making villages surrounding the city of Kumasi, the historic capital of the Ashanti Kingdom, and the center of the creation of so many extraordinary crafts originally produced for the royal court.

Traditionally worn as mourning cloths (with a background color of black, red or brown) they are also quite commonly worn today at festive occasions (more typically those with a white, or other bright colored background). Designs on the cloths are made using stamping blocks, which are made by carving into small pieces of calabash gourds. This is the tradional method, today you will also find artists in Ntonso experimenting with other designs and techniques, such as stamps made from foam, and also silkscreening.

Most of the Adinkra stamps below are from a collection of Timothy Garrard, a lawyer and an archaeologist who wrote about the gold trade and Ghana's goldweights. The stamps have been used extensively in the printing of cloths, they are beautifully and delicately carved, and show that wonderful patina from use.

Each Adinkra symbol has a name and represents a saying or a proverb. We did our best to identify each one in this collection and those we were not sure about are labeled with a question mark. But for the sake of accuracy, please don't take our own identification of these symbols as gospel truth, it would be better to go to the sources we used! (see references at bottom of page)


<em>Nyame Dua</em>: God's Altar - symbol of the presence of God<em>Funtummireku</em>: joined crocodiles with a common stomach, symbol of unity in diversity(?) possibly <em>W'ano Pe Asem</em>: you're nosy - if one is unhappy, one's conduct is the cause<em>Dwennimmen</em>: the horns of the ram - symbol of strength and humility
<em>Afe Bi Ye Asiane</em>: a year of bad luck, some years are inauspicious<em>Ani Hunu Yeya A</em>: the eyes see suffering, yet they remain in their placesimilar to <em>Otumfuo Wuo Ye Ya</em>: commemorating the passing away of Otumfuo Opoku Ware II<em>Mfofoo Aba</em>: seed of the mfofoo plant - symbol of warning against jealousy
<em>Ananse Ntontan</em>: spider's web - Ananse the spider is a symbol for cunning and creativity<em>Fie Mosea</em>: household pebbles - symbol for vigilance against the enemy who is within<em>Aban</em>: castle, or stone house - symbol records the building of a palace for the Asantehene<em>Mmusuyidee</em>: sanctity of self, spiritual strength, good fortune
<em>Nkotimsefoo Pua</em>: a hairstyle of the queen's attendants - signifies readiness to serve<em>Gyawu Atiko</em>: Gyawu's hairstyle, symbol of bravery, named after a victorious general(?) possibly a variation of <em>Besa Saka</em>: bunch of kola nuts, symbol of wealth and power<em>Fihankra</em>: compound house - symbol of security and solidarity
<em>Abusua Do Funu</em>: the family loves the dead - symbol of family responsibility(?) possibly a variation of <em>Adinkrahene</em>: king of the adinkra symbols<em>Akoo Mmowere</em>: parrot's talons - symbol of swiftness, power and intelligence<em>Mmusuyidee</em>: sanctity of self, spiritual strength, good fortune
<em>Obi Nka Obie</em>: I offend no one without a cause (avoid conflicts)<em>Kramo Bone</em>: fake muslim - symbol warning against quackery, deception, hypocrisy<em>Ani Hunu Yeya A</em>: the eyes see suffering, yet they remain in their place<em>Sankofa</em>: go back and retrieve - symbol of wisdon, knowledge, heritage
<em>Nyame Dua</em>: God's Altar - symbol of the presence of Godvariation on <em>Ananse Ntontan</em>: spider's web - symbol for cunning and creativity<em>Dwennimmen</em>: double ram's horns - symbol of strength and humility<em>Mpua Anum</em>: five tufts, hairstyle of king's attendants - symbol of loyalty, public service
(?) possible variation of <em>Mfofoo Aba</em>: seed of the mfofoo plant - warning against jealousy<em>Gye Nyame</em>: except God - no one lives who saw the begining of the world, or its end, except God<em>Adinkra Ba Apau</em>: the son of Adinkra - symbol of royalty, status, authority<em>Abusua Do Funu</em>: the family loves the dead - symbol of family responsibility
<em>Nkotimsefoo Pua</em>: a hairstyle of the queen's attendants - signifies readiness to serve<em>Ananse Ntontan</em>: spider's web - Ananse the spider is a symbol for cunning and creativity<em>Obi Nka Obi</em>: bite not each other - symbol of justice, peace, harmony<em>Adinkrahene</em>: king of the adinkra symbols - symbol of greatness and omnipotence of God
<em>Nyame Dua</em>: God's Altar - symbol of the presence of God<em>Asaawa</em>: sweet berry - sweetness does not last forever<em>Ohene Adwa</em>: king's stool - symbol of state power, prestige, continuity(?) possibly a variation of <em>Mmusuyidee</em>: sanctity of self, spiritual strength, good fortune
<em>Sankofa</em>: go back and retrieve - symbol of wisdon, knowledge, heritage(?) possibly a variation of <em>Nyame Dua</em>: God's Altar - symbol of the presence of God<em>Serewa</em or <em>Sedee</em>: cowries, once used as currency, are a symbol of wealth and power<em>Sankofa</em>: go back and retrieve - symbol of wisdon, knowledge, heritage
<em>Ohene Adwa</em>: king's stool - symbol of state power, prestige, continuity<em>Nsaa</em>: hand-woven blanket - symbol of excellence and authenticity<em>Mako Nyinaa</em>: all the peppers on the same tree do not ripen simultaneously (unequal opportunity) 

Most of the names and proverbs for the Adinkra stamps in this collection were found in the book Cloth As Metaphor by G. F. Kojo Arthur. We also consulted The Adinkra Dictionary by Bruce Willis and the research notes of Timothy Gerrard that came with his collection.

For more information on Adinkra cloth and stamping symbols on the web, see:

Kojo Arthur's Akan Cultural Symbols Project
Duncan Clarke's Introduction to Asante Adinkra Cloth
West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings has a nice collection of computer graphic images of Adinkra symbols, freely available for educational purposes.