Adinkra are symbols from Ghana that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used extensively in fabrics, logos and pottery. They are incorporated into walls and other architectural features. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan goldweights. The symbols are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use. Tourism has led to new departures in the use of the symbols in items such as T-shirts and jewellery.
Adinkra symbols were originally created by the Bono people of Gyaman. Gyaman King, Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adinkra, originally created or designed these symbols, naming it after himself. The Adinkra symbols were largely used on pottery, stools etc. by the people of Bono. Adinkra cloth was worn by the King of Gyaaman, and its usage spread from Bono Gyaman to Asante and other Akan Kingdoms following its defeat. It is said that the guild designers who designed this cloth for the Kings were forced to teach the Asantes the craft. Gyaman king Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adinkra’s first son, Apau, who was said to be well versed in the Adinkra craft, was forced to teach more about Adinkra cloths. Oral accounts have attested to the fact that Adinkra Apau taught the process to a man named Kwaku Dwaku in a town near Kumasi.Over time, all Akan people including the Fante, Akuapem and Akyem all made Adinkra symbols a major part of their culture as they all originated from the ancient Bono Kingdom.
The oldest surviving adinkra cloth was made in 1817. The cloth features fifteen stamped symbols, including nsroma (stars), dono ntoasuo (double Dono drums), and diamonds.The patterns were printed using carved calabash stamps and a vegetable-based dye. It has resided in the British Museum since 1818, when it was donated by Thomas E. Bowdich.
1825 Adinkra cloth
The next oldest piece of adinkra textile was sent in 1825 from the Elmina Castle to the royal cabinet of curiosities in The Hague, in response to an assignment from Major F. Last, who was appointed temporary Commander of Dutch Gold Coast. He had the cloth commissioned from the Fante Paramount Chief of Elmina for William I of the Netherlands, which would explain why the Coat of arms of the Netherlands is in the centre. The other motifs are typical of the older adinkras. It is now on display in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.