Adinkra

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

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

‘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

‘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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Natural Hair, Confidence, & African Tribal Hairstyle

Would you ROCK a Tribal Hairstyle?

[E1] Caribana 2014 - Toronto Carnival

[E1] Caribana 2014 – Toronto Carnival

Not many people can rock a bona fide African Tribal hairstyle. Working women need hairstyles which are easy to manage, maintain, and are not too heavy on the wallet. Lately however I’ve noticed a comeback (resurgence if you will) of natural hairstyles with the afrocentric look, driven in part by the definition of beauty that has become more inclusive and puts a premium on confidence, uniqueness, health, and color. The other driver to this is the willingness of African American women to quietly embrace their afrocentric origins, a non-quiet rebellion against the societal norms of styles based on long, straight hair.

Basic Continuum

Let’s start with the basic minimum/maximum look, with the minimum look gaining ground on the heels of the award winning performance of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013) [1].

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

Very few women are daring enough to pull off either extreme.

[E3] Ally - Metropolitan Museum 2013

[E3] Ally – Metropolitan Museum 2013

Igbo Influence

The prize for the most visually stunning goes to versions stemming from the 1800’s to the early 20th century Igbo style.

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

In African Tribal art this hairstyle is represented by the Agbogho mmwo [2], or “maiden spirit,” masks worn by men at festivals that honor important deities. They represent the Igbo ideal of female beauty: small, balanced features, elaborate hairstyles, and delicate tattoos.

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

One of the fascinating aspects of the many variations currently in fashion is the wide options of micro-braid styles available to be used. I think this will grow in popularity in coming years.

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E10] Afrocentric Variant - TnT Carnival 2014

[E10] Afrocentric Variant – TnT Carnival 2014

Mende Perspective

“The top of every Sowo mask is carved to represent braided hair, and the style of hair braiding is one of the mask’s most individualized features. The hair crest always displays axial symmetry around the facial vertical line… the mask’s hairstyle is always grander and more distinctive”[2]

[E11] Mende carvings - "Sowo wui" helmet masks

[E11] Mende carvings – “Sowo wui” helmet masks

Baule

A variation of a Baule style that has a large following is the Bantu knot-out (aka China Bump)

[E12] Baule "blolo bla" (spirit wife carving)

[E12] Baule “blolo bla” (spirit wife carving)

Luba Style

One lesser known style was very popular among the Luba tribe and reflected in many different forms of Luba sculpture.

[E13] Luba Carving

[E13] Luba Carving

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

There are too many African tribes with identifiable hairstyles to mention (Mangbetu, Kuba). It is a fascinating aspect of Collecting African Tribal Art which can assist in learning one’s history and provide clues to cultural norms and values.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupita_Nyong’o
[2] Radiance from the Waters; Sylvia Ardyn Boone, p.184

[E4] Among the Ibos of Nigeria; Basden, G.T. 1921; p288/289
[E14] http://blog.brunoclaessens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Shankadi-headdress-Michel.jpg

Finding Dengese

 

The crazy thing about collecting African art, (or anything for that matter), is the inexhaustible thrill of both the hunt and the acquisition. The week ending 102211 was a good week simply because I finally managed to purchase a Baule monkey statue. “In Baule culture, cupbearing monkey statues, commonly known as “gbekre” since their first mention in 1900 by Maurice Delafosse, belong to the category of amwin, or “objects of power”. They were used by men-only initiation societies for a number of purposes, both functional – as a basis for prophylactic practices, linked to agrarian rites or to a form of divination known as mbra (Bouloré in RMN, 2000: 107 et Vogel, 1997: 221-230) – and iconographic, each type being designated by a specific term (aboya, mbotumbo, ndyadan, gbekre…) ” Sotheby’s[1].  I can only say that I’ve been looking for a decent one for a long time.  Typically the “Mbra” has elongated lower jaws and a very aggressive appearance, but  as I’ve found in collecting African tribal art, the 80/20 adage holds quite well. “The Mbotumbo (Ape god of the Baule), is the person’s special protector, but cannot be purchased in the market (like the Ibo do with their Ikenga), since certain conditions (eg. supernatural signs), must be observed.”[2] This piece is a real twist on the more familiar Baule masks which typically promote harmony, and happiness, (Mblo, Goli masks).

Baule Monkey Statue : Mbra, Gbekre

As luck would have it, I purchased a couple other items in the lot as well. One item shown below was new to me. What I did recognize however was the shape of the “coiffure” or hair-cut, which seemed very similar to those of the Kuba masks, used in Kuba creation masquerades. The Kuba live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Using this information I was able to finally “track”, and identify the piece using the reference The Tribal Arts of Africa.

Dengese : King Figure (Isikimanji)

 

The Dengese figure is attractive for two reasons,

1) the fact that they have no legs, and

2) the scarification on the figure is very extensive.

The headdress, a distorted cone, represents the one placed on the king’s head during his installation and symbolizes understanding, intelligence, distinction, respect, and unity among chiefs. The placement of the hands on the belly refers to the common origins of the king’s subjects, from which he anticipates cooperation. Numerous symbols are carved on the neck and on the elongated torso and arms in imitation of scarification patterns. The patterns allude to aphorisms and praise phrases that encode the mysteries of Dengese chiefly authority.”[3]

African Tribes, Demographics, & The Slave Trade Map

Information on African Tribes – Demographics, Politics, Religion, History, Economy, Tribal Art, Neighboring Tribes, Culture, Language.

Aka Akan Akuapem Akye Anyi Aowin
Asante Babanki Baga Bali Bamana Bamileke
Bamum Bangubangu Bangwa Baule Beembe Bembe
Benin Kingdom Berber (Amazigh) Bete Bidyogo Biombo Bobo
Bushoong Bwa Cameroon Grasslands Chokwe Dan Dengese
Diomande Djenn� Dogon Ejagham Eket Ekoi
Esie Fang Fante Fon Frafra Fulani
Guro Hausa Hemba Holoholo Ibibio Idoma
Igala Igbira Igbo Igbo Ukwu Ijo Kabre
Karagwe Kassena Katana Kom Kongo Kota
Kuba Kurumba Kusu Kwahu Kwele Kwere
Laka Lega Lobi Luba Luchazi Luluwa
Lunda Luvale Lwalwa Maasai Makonde Mambila
Mangbetu Manja Marka Mbole Mende Mitsogo
Mossi Mumuye Namji (Dowayo) Ngbaka Nkanu Nok
Nuna Nunuma (Gurunsi) Ogoni Oron Owo Pende
Pokot Punu Salampasu San Sapi Senufo
Shambaa Shona Songo Songye Suku Swahili
Tabwa Tuareg Urhobo We Winiama Wodaabe
Wolof Woyo Wum Yaka Yaure Yombe
Yoruba Zaramo Zulu

 

Destinations of Slaves and their Origins

PROJECTED EXPORTS OF THAT PORTION OF THE FRENCH AND ENGLISH SLAVE TRADE HAVING IDENTIFIABLE REGION OF COAST ORIGIN IN AFRICA, 1711-1810. [1]
 
Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia) * 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast) * 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana) * 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria) * 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) * 25.1%
Central and Southeast Africa (Cameroon-N. Angola) * 24.7%
SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba, Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor
 
SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.
 
WINDWARD COAST (including Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa, Grebo.
 
GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong
 
BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA combined: Yoruba, Nupe, Benin, Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Lbibio, Ljaw, Lbani, Lgbo (Calabar)
 
CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu, BaNdulunda
 
Other possible groups that maybe should be included as a “Ancestral group” of African Americans:
 
Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa, Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.

References

[1] http://wysinger.homestead.com/mapofafricadiaspora.html

The African Tribal Art of Facial Scarification

Scarification is the practice of permanently marking the skin by cutting it, and is widely practised in Africa. The main purpose of African scarification is to enhance a person’s beauty, but scars can also indicate bravery, show group identity, or mark stages in a person’s life. [1] Collecting African Tribal Art through masks, and headdresses is an easy way to examine the cultural differences, and norms of African Tribes.

Guro Mask : Simple Scarification Pattern

Makonde

 The Makonde used body scarification in an effort to prevent their abduction into slavery. Although not as popular as before, scarification still finds a place in the culture, and craft of the tribe. A typical Lipico mask is worn on the top of the head partially covering the face and slanted up to enable the masquerader to see through the mouth area. These masks are used in initiation and circumcision ceremonies for boys as they move from adolescence to manhood. The masks may exhibit scarification, which is reflected in thick, symmetrical zigzag patterns across the face area.

Makonde Tribe : Lipico Mask

Tabwa

 The distinctive facial scarification consisting of a number of lines along the sides of the face and along the forehead, and abdomen were the means whereby Tabwa identified themselves to localities, and displayed social status. They are also a high form of body art or ornamentation. Elaborate and attractive patterns and designs were worked into the skin according to the Tabwa concept of ‘kulemba’ that reflect aesthetics, social membership, and the abstract idea of order upon the chaos of nature. It demonstrates that a person becomes a complete adult when they are properly inscribed with the appropriate scars. These patterns and designs are collectively known as ‘vindala’ and represent one’s advancement through life and within Tabwa society. Distinctive hairstyles among Tabwa men reflect status or membership in a hunter’s cult known as ‘buyange’, and requires some effort to braid, tie and decorate. [2]

Tabwa Tribe

Baule

Consider the marks on the Baule mask. The Senufo use three scars radiating from the edge of the mouth along the side of the face. The Senufo however are close neighbors of the Baule in the Ivory Coast.

Baule Tribe

At one time most slaves in the Baule territory were Senufo and because Baule people make this association, they use this type of scar to protect young children from harm; when a woman has had several children who have died for example this scar is given to her next child so that Death will not be attracted to it. [3]

[1] http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/pdf/scarification_web.pdf

[2] http://www.africadirect.com/productsdesc.php?ID=53842

[3] http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/pdf/scarification_web.pdf

Marriage, Family, and Community.

Marriage, Family, and Community

We take many aspects of marriage for granted.. very much like the Federal backing of a Ginnie Mae mortgage backed security, or the FDIC guarantee for bank deposits not exceeding $100k…. we assume that God has an implicit spiritual guarantee in place for people who faithfully adhere to the tenets of marriage and monogamous living. Ironically this represents an enormous leap of faith and diabolical logic.

Baule : Spirit Partner

One of the most interesting quotes I came across was that marriage may have began as an institution to adequately access nubile women… this made sense,  since who would want warriors killing each other in their quest for companionship! [1] Another interesting point was that around 600 years ago no priest was required for a European styled marriage, which was basically sealed by a promise. The modern marriage came into effect around 1556, after the 1553 Council of Trent.[2]

It may come as a shock that marriage in and of itself does not bring God’s blessing and it is by itself a spiritual nostrum. Almost any crook, murderer, or thief, can get married in the finest church and walk out as husband and/or  wife.

This is not to say that the social construct that is marriage is useless… far from it. Nor would I rank the payment of taxes (another construct) on the same spiritual level that some marriages clearly attain, but I refrain from linking deep personal intimacy with spirituality.

Bambara Maternity Statues

Bambara - Maternity Statues

Within the context of a community, and raising a family, different types of marriages clearly work better than others.

If any one wedding tradition might be said to be indicative of the African continent it would be the importance of family. An African wedding is, more than anything, the bringing together of two people as a single family, or the combining of two families or even the mixture of two tribes into one family unit. The concept of family is one of the unifying ideas of the African continent.

There are more than 1,000 cultural units in Africa and each culture, each tribe has its own wedding and marriage traditions, many of which can trace their origins back hundreds or even thousands of years.

Divorce is rare in African marriages. Problems in a marriage are often discussed with both families and solutions found. Often entire villages join in to help a couple find solutions to their problems and keep a marriage from failing. [3]

A good marriage can provide a “win win” situation where both sides find love, and companionship, as well as raise a family. It remains hard work and it would seem that some Western societies do not provide adequate training for the task, yet the freedoms afforded the Western females are such that they are not disadvantaged to  as great an extent as in Eastern and African societies.

It is clear that the most important part of the marriage is the love and commitment of the couple to each other.  A marriage represents the legal, spiritual, union of two people but can easily devolve into a basic contract on paper, and an amazingly complex hell on earth.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

 

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Trent

[3] http://www.worldweddingtraditions.com/locations/african_traditions.html

Freud, the Baule, Ashante, and Bambara.

Within the past year I have shared apartment space with several African Tribal art objects, which while beautiful to look at also carried a story or had significant meaning in some form related to family unity or maternity. It really makes a difference just relating to the concepts behind the art. It doesn’t happen overnight, but over time exposure to non-western philosophy offers a different interpretation of our day to day meanderings.

In Freud’s model of the psyche, the Id (instinctive unconscious), the Ego (organized, conscious), and the Superego (moralizing, not entirely unconscious) form an interactive framework which work together in the mind.

“One of the fundamental functions of the Ego is Reality Testing – reaching into the real world to see if what is believed to be the case actually proves out – but this does not bear full fruit until the Ego has become Autonomous… substantially set free from inner conflicts between the Id and Superego.”[1]

To attain optimum creativity on an individual basis the Ego therefore has to be free from the restrictions, and guidelines (parental, religious, societal) imposed by the Superego. As the following will show the Baule, Ashante, and Bambara tribes/cultures use ‘role playing’ to embrace the role of the Superego and to subvert the role of the Ego. A strong Ego (contrary to common belief), is a good thing,

“Ego strength is the power, determination and ability to engage reality for whatever we find it to be – to accept what is as existing and to then use our cognitive-behavioral, emotional and relational skills to deal with such. Ego strength also refers to the inner personal strength by which we tolerate stress and frustration and to deal with reality without falling back to infantile defense mechanisms.”[2]

It can be argued however that in a close knit society where the role of the woman is less expansive that it is today, and the family unit more important, role-playing through reinforcement of an integrated value system incorporating a belief system based on spiritual interaction is a realistic option. The interpretation is that the tribal focus is not “to be the best that one could be” but rather from a holistic perspective “to be the best component of a community” that respects more fundamental concepts, such as child bearing, family unity, and trust. From this viewpoint it would seem that there is a place for the tempering effect of the Superego in the right social environment.

Baule Spirit Statue (Blolo Bla)

In the Baule culture it is believed that prior to being born, each person has a spouse in the spirit world. The male spirit husband is called ‘blolo bian’ and the female spirit wife is called ‘blolo bla’. Both figures form a pair and are used in the family household together. It is held that ofttimes when things go wrong the responsibility lies with the spirit spouses, which become angry or jealous and disturb the lives of their living partners. On these occasions a diviner recommends that an altar be established where the spirit may receive offerings and be appeased[3].

“The carved figure of the ‘spirit spouse’ should be beautiful in order to please the spirit and attract it to the shrine. The erect bearing of the figures indicates a morally upright person; the open eyes and high forehead suggest intelligence and lucidity. The hands held obediently at the sides and the modest stance of the feet give the figure a respectful attitude that shows good character. Physical perfection is shown in the healthy body, the strong neck able to bear heavy loads on the head, and the muscular calves of the hard worker. The pointed breasts and rounded buttocks of the female signify maturity and sexual attractiveness, and thus the promise of children. “

Ashante Fertility Doll (Akua’ba)

The legend of the origination of the Akua’ba doll comes from the story of a woman named “Akua” who could not get pregnant and went to a local diviner or priest and commissioned the carving of a small wooden doll. She carried and cared for the doll as if it were her own child, feeding it, bathing it and so on. Soon the people in
the village started calling it “Akua” “ba” – meaning “Akua’s child”, since “ba” meant child. She soon became pregnant and her daughter grew up with the doll.

Ashante Akua'ba doll

The legend and tradition still live on today… [4]

Bambara Maternity Figures

Bambara Maternity Statues


Bambara sculptures are primarily used during the annual ceremonies of the Guan society. During these ceremonies, a group of up to seven figures, measuring from 80 to 130 cm in height, are removed from their sanctuaries by the elder members of the society. The sculptures are washed, re-oiled and sacrifices are offered to them at their shrines. These figures – some of which date from between the 14th and 16th centuries – usually display a typical crested coiffure, often adorned with a talisman.

The  seated or standing maternity figure called Guandousou –is known in the West as the ‘Bambara Queen’ [5]

By undermining these social constructs society effectively feeds into the argument of “Ego strength”. In an environment where medical advances and state of the art technology are common, one may take the scientific route as the first option. In the tribal arena it is entirely possible that the speed of cultural degradation, thus far, outstrips the supply of technical infrastructure. The individual in such cases is left without the social network offered by the larger male or female ‘society’ and the fabric of the tribal society is rendered meaningless by the loss of ‘Superego’ based value systems, supported by tribal  rituals.


[1] http://www.trans4mind.com/mind-development/ego-autonomy.html

[2] http://www.trans4mind.com/mind-development/ego-autonomy.html

[3] http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/artsandmedia/artmuseum/africanart/Exhibition.html

[4] http://www.randafricanart.com/Asante_akuaba_doll.html

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_art

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