google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html The Adinkra of West Africa | Kingdom of Africa



Posted by Florian Cheval on


Adinkra fabric is used in traditional funeral ceremonies of the Asante people of Ghana as well as many of their neighbors. Find out everything there is to know about this West African fabric . Funerals are among the most lavish of all Asante ritual occasions and are clearly part of their still-strong commitment to veneration of their ancestors. Scholar JB Danquah defines the meaning of adinkra as "to part, to be separated, to leave one another, to say goodbye."

Adinkra fabrics are distinguished by designs applied using carved gourd pads and black dye placed in a rectilinear grid whose divisions are created by a three- or four-toothed comb brushed into segments measured along the length and the width of the fabric. Some fabrics may feature a single stamped design, while others may have over twenty different designs applied to the surface.


For a fabric to be called adinkra, it must have these stamped designs. If the fabric is to be used as a mourning dress, it must be dyed in one of three colors: red, tan or dark blue-black. This last color is generally not stamped. Some sources indicate that red adinkra is reserved for the closest members of the family and others state that this is the role of brown fabrics. It is clear that practices vary. Adinkra fabrics that remain white or are printed on brightly colored fabric are referred to as "Sunday adinkra" and are not used at funerals, but rather as celebratory clothing for various special occasions, much like the Kente fabric .

Benin kente t-shirt


The oldest known adinkra cloth (now in the British Museum) dates from 1817 and consists of twenty-four strips of undyed cotton cloth, each about three inches wide, hand-woven on the same type of horizontal narrow band loom that the Asante kente . The strips are sewn selvage to selvage (finished edges of a fabric) to produce a large men's fabric draped over the body, toga style, with the left shoulder covered and the right exposed. Women wear two pieces, one as a skirt and the other as an upper wrap or shawl. In the early 2000s, this last piece was more often transformed into a blouse.

The use of assembled narrow strips of a fixed width undoubtedly influenced the compositional divisions of the fabric as well as the size of early stamps. By the end of the 19th century, however, imported and industrially manufactured factory fabrics had largely replaced hand strip weaves. Also at this time, the British were producing mill fabrics with roll-printed adinkra designs for the West African market.

Making adinkra

Many adinkra fabrics feature an additional pattern, namely a further division of men's fabrics along their length with bands of multi-colored whip-stitch embroidery in combinations of yellow, red, green and blue. As shown in an 1896 photograph of the then king of Asante, Agyeman Prempeh I , this practice dates back at least to the late 19th century.

The embroidery is usually straight along the length of the fabric, but an important variation features jagged edges in a pattern called "centipede" or "zigzag". Although not necessarily referring to adinkra, Englishman Thomas Bowdich observed this practice in 1817. On some fabrics, hand-woven multi-colored strips about an inch and a half wide replace embroidery.

adinkra design

It is generally accepted that the adinkra genus was strongly influenced from the beginning by Islam and in particular by the inscribed Arabic fabrics which are still produced by Asante's northern neighbors. These fabrics share a grid-like division of space and a number of hand-drawn designs that are easily recognizable as adinkra designs. Some of the same principles and motifs are also found on Islamic-inspired cast copper ritual vessels called kuduo .

Asante's attraction to the spiritual efficacy of Islam and to Arabic literacy has been well documented since the early 19th century. It is significant that a cloth with an inscription in Arabic is still part of the wardrobe of the current king of Asante. The argument here is that stamped adinkra fabric was developed as a tropicalization of labor-intensive and explicitly literate Muslim clothing.


The richness of the graphic vocabulary of postage stamps is particularly interesting for the study and appreciation of Adinkra. Until the middle of the 20th century, there were around fifty frequently repeated motifs. As with most Asantic arts , visual images have a very conventional verbal component. The meaning of many motifs is elucidated by generally well-known proverbs.

Adinkra Patterns and Meanings

A pattern with four spiral shapes protruding from the center represents the maxim: " A ram fights with its heart and not its horns ", suggesting that strength of character is more important than the weapons one uses. A stamp in the shape of a fleur-de-lis is identified as a hen's foot and is associated with the proverb: " A hen's foot may step on its chicks, but it does not kill them ", i.e. the mother provides protection and guidance, not danger. A stamp depicting a ladder illustrates the inevitable: “ The ladder of death is not climbed by one man .”

Perhaps the most common motif is an abstract form that represents what is usually translated as: " Except God ", but its meaning is better expressed as " Only God ". As with much of their art, the Ashanti worldview is wonderfully articulated in this funerary fabric.

Adinkra symbols

In the 21st century, the corpus of stamp designs has expanded to more than five hundred. They include many references to the modern world, including automobiles, hydroelectric power, and cell phones. A number of designs represent the logos of an assortment of Ghanaian political parties that have vied for power since independence (hand, rooster, elephant and cocoa tree). Another trend is a series of stamps that literally state their messages.

For example, " EKAA NSEE NKOA " engraved on a gourd-shaped stamp refers to a longer proverb that translates to: " The woodpecker celebrates the death of the onyina tree ." As the bird nests and feeds in the dead tree, this is a kind of statement about the cycle of life. This practice recalls the origin of adinkra in fabrics filled with writing, with handwritten inscriptions (although in Arabic).

As with Asante Kente, the verbal component of Adinkra imagery is an important factor in its popularity in African American communities. Mill-woven adinkra is almost as commercially popular as machine-made kente and appears in many forms of clothing, including hats , bags , scarves and shawls . Individual adinkra designs have even transcended clothing forms to become an important element of graphic design, fine art, and even architecture.

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