West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings
ABOUT THE SITE
HOW IT STARTED
In January 2001, I traveled to Ghana as part of a volunteer program called Geekcorps. The program's mission is to bring high-tech professionals to underdeveloped countries to work with local businesses in an effort to transfer knowledge and skills in programming, database management, web design and other fields. I worked forr a wonderful software company called TSS, teaching web design and marketing. (That's my TSS colleague Tony Aboagye in the photo.) (More about Ghana and Geekcorps in my Accra Dispatch journal.)
In every way, it was a wonderful experience and I developed a love for the country and the people. I was fascinated with adinkra from the beginning, and tried to collect as many images of them as I could, with the idea of creating a comprehensive website.
The project sat untouched after I returned to the U.S. Then, four months later, the shock and the horror of September 11 brought me back to adinkra as a kind of a counterpoint to the violence and hatred. It became important to remember that what unites us is greater than what divides us. The adinkra symbols reflect a system of human values that are universal: family, integrity, tolerance, harmony, determination, protection among many others.
Since then, I have received many wonderful e-mails from all over the world. I especially appreciate the notes from students and teachers who are using this as an educational resource. I am very happy to be part of a larger community that appreciate what the adinkra represent.
I hope the adinkra bring you the pleasure they have brought me. If you need larger size images for your projects, see the guidelines on the Graphics page. If you have an adinkra-related project you'd like to share, I'd love to consider including it on the site. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SITE DESIGN NOTES
In designing this site, I have tried to heed some of the lessons I learned while teaching web design in Ghana. I experienced firsthand some of the frustrations that are caused by design that does not take into consideration that not everyone in the whole wide world enjoys broadband internet access and the latest computer hardware.
I have also used this site as a test of Cascading Style Sheets, an innovation in the web standard that is supposed to allow designers to separate style from content. The style potential in CSS is great, but it is still a standard waiting to be adopted consistently on a widespread basis. CSS requires the latest browsers for the style to appear at all, and even in the later browsers (versions 4.0 and higher), the implementation is inconsistent.
CSS is something that web designers need to support. It allows HTML to return to its primary mission (tagging content), and lets all those fluffy attributes (as my geek friends probably think) be separated into a separate style sheet.
If I hadn't used CSS to design this site, I would have probably made
all the headers into GIF images, depriving them of their value to search
engines and to accessibility tools for internet users with disabilities.
And, as I know from my stint in Ghana, these images would have made the
pages download that much more s . l . o . w . l . y.
This guide is by no means complete. There are hundreds of adinkra symbols. I have put together a small group of symbols that I became familiar with while I was in Ghana. I have relied primarily on "Values of Adinkra Symbols" by Adolph H. Agbo, an excellent pamphlet that I have not been able to find in the United States. I also refer frequently to W. Bruce Willis' exhaustive reference, "The Adinkra Dictionary" and "Cloth As Metaphor" by Prof. G.F Kojo Arthur of Marshall University.
Bibliography of adinkra-related scholarship
I am not a scholar of cultural anthropology or any other field that would give me the slightest qualification to compile this guide. I have done this as a true amateur, i.e. someone who loves Ghanaian culture. I welcome any and all corrections, clarifications, suggestions.
The language of the Asante people, from which the adinkra symbols derive their names, is Twi. I know only a few phrases of Twi myself, so I cannot vouch for the translations. The spelling is also problematic: there are characters used in Twi transliteration which have no HTML equivalents yet.
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