» preface
· introduction
· design glossary
· sample symbols

The Adinkra Dictionary: A Visual Primer on the Language of Adinkra by W. Bruce Willis


This book is a dictionary, defining and explaining adinkra, a cloth used during the funerals of the Akan people of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. On these cloths are printed stylistic symbols referred to as adinkra symbols.

This book is an attempt by the author to explain the language of adinkra and adinkra symbols in a format where many readers can learn about one of the richest treasures of the African continent. I have tried to be as informative and comprehensive as possible. Being an artist, I included close to six hundred original drawings, illustration, charts and maps.

It took close to six years to compile this information. On many occasions it was a difficult task because about one-half of the book had to be taken from oral tradition. That means I had to interview Akan elders (elders were found to be more reliable sources than others) who recited oral accounts of the past history of the Akan people. It was quite interesting and fulfilling but that portion of my research alone took over three years.

This book is intended to inform and educate. It is not written as a definitive treatise on the subject of adinkra. Adinkra is ever-evolving and it is constantly expanding. The adinkra symbols have multilayered meanings and definitions. This means that a symbol may have more than one meaning, and those meanings might be explained with different levels of interpretation. People may disagree on different levels about interpretations, but the basic definition and concept of the design is generally agreed upon.

In no way is this book an attempt to definitely define the totality of adinkra. The purpose of this book is to lay a basic framework of understanding and analysis of the subject. It is hoped that because of this research a larger study of this system of art, uniquely created by the Akan people, will be initiated.

Some statements in this book may be at times questioned by some people, for in doing this research I have found that some facts even today are still not agreed upon by the Akan people as a whole.

When I started this project I did not intend for it to be as large a document as it is. Once I had started the project and got well along the road, I found out that the only way that I could do it right was by doing a thorough job.

I sincerely hope that my effort will be appreciated and that more people will come to understand the language of adinkra.

- 22 Jan 98, W. Bruce Willis