The Adinkra Guide: Defining Adinkra Symbols

Updated: May 31



Adinkra symbols are a beautiful symbology originated by the Akan people of West Africa. These symbols were originally used on adinkra textile for Akan funerals, and has since grown into being used for everyday fashion. Adinkra adorns clothing, home decor, and are recently popular in tattooing. Nonetheless, Tribal Immunity has a collection called "Adinkra Empire" which uses a great selection of adinkra. The designs used on each Tribal Immunity piece are stamped with authentic adinkra stamps made in West Africa, the same stamps used by traditional adinkra textile designers. When we say "hand-painting from an African perspective" we mean it, down to the very tools used on our products.


I discovered adinkra before I knew of its meaning or relevance in African society. Many years ago my mother purchased a handful of adinkra stamps from Ghana. They lived in the basement of our home for years until one day she suggested I do something with them. That is when I began using a few of the stamps on clothing items. That is where Tribal immunity was born. Since then, I have become an independent researcher, learning about different symbols when I could and growing more interest over time.


My introduction to adinkra is like many Africans, as we find joy in learning about our ancestral histories. We see these histories in the iron and stonemason work on buildings and homes throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Adinkra no longer only belongs to the Akan of West Africa, it belongs to all of Africa’s children willing to connect with the past.


This resource contains a collection of symbols I use as well as some of my block printing artwork. There are hundreds of adinkra that are not mentioned here, so I hope you take the time to learn more about adinkra in your free time and maybe create your own art!




More About Adinkra Textile (from Ann Arbor Art Center):


Adinkra Cloth comes from the Ashanti people who live in Ghana, which is a country in West Africa. The Adinkra symbols are printed on both cloth and pottery and are made using stamps and screen–printing. The traditional stamps are carved out of an old calabash squash, with a handle carved out for ease of use. Each stamp and symbol tells a story, so when creating an Adinkra cloth, the Ashanti people chose a story that was important to them. Originally, the Adinkra cloth was only worn for funerals. The symbols in the funerary cloths represented respect and sadness. With modern Adinkra cloths, people wear them for different kinds of celebrations, draped around them like a toga. These cloths can also be used as tablecloths, wall hangings, and pieces of clothing.


Resources:


Adinkra Grapher

Adinkra Fabric Painting of Ghana: Lesson + Art Project

Adinkra Symbols of West Africa: adinkra.org

PBS Kids'Africa: Create Your Own Adinkra Cloth

Asante Adinkra Cloth

Adinkra Cloth from Ghana {pdf}


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