History and Origin of Adinkra Symbols

Adinkra is an Akan word (as well as a name) which means farewell or good bye. Akan oral tradition dates the arrival of adinkra among the Akan to the end of the 1818 Asante–Gyaman War.

It is believed that a chief by name Kofi Adinkra made a replica of the Golden Stool. This provoked Asantes under Otumfuo Osei Bonsu Panin. As a result, Asantes went to war against the people of Gyaman, an ethnic group in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana and part of La Cote d’Ivoire whose chief was Kofi Adinkra.

The Asantes defeated the people of Gyaman and killed Kofi Adinkra. The replica golden stool was seized and some people (including craftsmen) were taken as captives of war. The craftsmen brought the adinkra symbols to Kumasi (Ntonso). Today, Ntonso is a town noted for the production of Adinkra cloths and symbols. Ntonso is located 24 kilometers from Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana.

Adinkra cloths were traditionally only worn by royalty and spiritual leaders for funerals and other very 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.

Anthony Boakye uses a comb to mark parallel lines on an adinkra cloth in Ntonso, Ghana.

The present centre of traditional production of adinkra cloth is Ntɔnso, 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 badie tree (Bridelia ferruginea) 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.

Sources:

Handbook on Kente Designs and Adinkra Symbols by Kwaku Amoaku-Attah Fosu

Wikipedia.org