Being introduced to Adinkra as a resource for symbols and aphorisms is akin to finding a treasure trove, particularly for someone who’s into collecting African Tribal art and has a penchant for tattoos. Adinkra is used primarily by the Ashante and the Baule in fabric and pottery design. It’s popularity stems from an old Ghanaian cloth dyeing process, and the oldest existing Adinkra cloth is dated around 1817, so it probably means Adinkra has been around at least since the 18th century.

Here are a few examples and explanations behind a few of the more popular symbols (source: Adinkra paper).

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“Except God”

‘Gye Nyame’ meaning ‘except God’ is a symbol that reflects the supremacy and dominion of God over all creation. God is regarded therefore as the omnipotent and omnipresent being, the giver of life. (Note: My thinking is this translates better as “but for God” vs “excluding God”).

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The adinkra symbol ‘Aya (fern)’ refers to a hardy plant which has the ability to withstand all weather conditions and soil types symbolizing endurance in all aspects of human endeavours.


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Sesa wo suban (or Sesa woruban(?)) …. The “Change or transform your character ” symbol of “life transformation” combines two separate adinkra symbols, the “Morning Star” which can mean a new start to the day, placed inside the wheel, representing rotation or independent movement. (source)

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‘Kintinkantan’ (Extravagant and puffed up)

This is a symbol of extravagance and arrogance. It serves as a warning against boastfulness and disregard for other people.


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‘Sankofa’ (Go back and take)

It’s a symbol of positive reversion and revival.

This symbol teaches the wisdom in learning from the past (love this), which helps in building the future. It also teaches people to cherish and value their culture and avoid its adulteration.


The screenshot/photo link following is a good resource with lots of symbols and explanations:

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