63 African Symbols For Creative Design By: Mawuna Remarque KOUTONIN

African symbols from Egypt are well known, but now is time to discover more African symbols specially from West Africa, called Adinkra.

Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. They represent concepts or aphorisms, and are extensively used in fabrics, pottery, logos and advertising.

The symbols have a decorative function but also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment.

The Collection below is from the work of Jean MacDonald, and is destined to African artists and designers for inspiration in logo, websites, clothes, jewelery and fashion design, not forget fortattoos.

You can try to win the complete pack of the 63 images in high resolution here.

1. SANKOFA


sank_lg
 

“return and get it”

symbol of importance of learning from the past 
sank2_lg

 

2. WO NSA DA MU A


wonsa_lg
 

“If your hands are in the dish”

symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism

From the aphorism, “Wo nsa da mu a, wonni nnya wo” — “If your hands are in the dish, people do not eat everything and leave you nothing.” Source: “Cloth As Metaphor” by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

3. SESA WO SUBAN


sesa_lg
 

“Change or transform your character”

symbol of life transformation

This symbol 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.

 

4. WAWA ABA


wawa_lg
 

“seed of the wawa tree”

symbol of hardiness, toughness and perseverance

The seed of the wawa tree is extremely
hard. In Akan culture, it is a symbol of someone who is strong and tough. Itinspires the individual to persevere through hardship.

 

5. TAMFO BEBRE


tamf_lg
 

“the enemy will stew in his own
juice”

symbol of jealousy and envy

 

6. WOFORO DUA PA A


wofo_lg
 

“when you climb a good tree”

symbol of support, cooperation and encouragement

From the expression “Woforo dua pa a, na yepia wo” meaning “When you climb a good tree, you are given a push”. More metaphorically, it means that when you work for a good cause, you will get support.

Source: Cloth As Metaphor by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

7. PEMPAMSIE


pemp_lg
 

“sew in readiness”

symbol of readiness, steadfastness, hardiness

According to the The Adinkra Dictionary, the design
of this symbol resembles the links of a chain, and implies strength through unity as well as the importance of being prepared.

 

8. OWUO ATWEDEE


owuo-atwedee_lg
 

“the ladder of death”

symbol of mortality a reminder of the transitory
nature of existence in this world and of the imperative to live a good life to
be a worthy soul in the afterlife

 

9. OWO FORO ADOBE


owof_lg
 

“snake climbing the raffia tree”

symbol of steadfastness, prudence and
diligence

Because of its thorns, the raffia tree is a very dangerous challenge to the snake. His ability to climb it is a model of persistence and prudence.

 

10. OSRAM NE NSOROMMA


osra_lg
 

“The Moon and the Star”

symbol of love, faithfulness, harmony

This symbol reflects the harmony that exists in the bonding between a man and a woman. Proverb: “Kyekye pe aware.” (The North Star has a deep love for marriage. She is always in the sky waiting for the return of the moon, her husband.) –from The Adinkra Dictionary)

 

11. ONYANKOPON ADOM NTI BIRIBIARA BEYE YIE


onyan_lg
 

“By God’s grace, all will be well”

symbol of hope, providence, faith

Source: Cloth As Metaphor by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

12. OKODEE MMOWERE


okodee_lg
 

“the talons of the eagle”

symbol of strength, bravery, power

The eagle is the mightiest bird in the sky, and its strength is concentrated in its talons. The Oyoko clan, one of the nine Akan clans, uses this symbol as their clan emblem.

 

13. ODO NNYEW FIE KWAN


odon_lg
 

“Love never loses its way home”

symbol of the power of love

 

14. NYANSAPO


nyan_lg
 

“wisdom knot”

symbol of wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience

A especially revered symbol of the Akan, this symbol conveys the idea that “a wise person has the capacity to choose the best means to attain a goal. Being wise implies broad knowledge, learning and experience, and the ability to apply such faculties to practical ends.” (Willis, “The Adinkra Dictionary“)

 

15. NYAME YE OHENE


nyameohene_lg
 

“God is King “

symbol of majesty and supremacy of God
Source: 
Cloth As Metaphor by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

16. NYAME NTI


nyame-nti_lg
 

“by God’s grace”

symbol of faith and trust in God
According to The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis: “This stalk is depicted as the staff of life in many cultures. It symbolizes to the Akan that food is a basis of life and that they could not survive if not for the food that God has placed here on Earth for their nourishment. “

 

17. NYAME NNWU NA MAWU


nyawu_lg
 

“God never dies, therefore I cannot die”

symbol of God’s omnipresence and the perpetual existence of man’s spirit

This signifies the immortality of man’s soul, believed to be a part of God. Because the soul rests with God after death, it cannot die.

 

18. NYAME BIRIBI WO SORO


nyabi_lg
 

“God is in the heavens”

symbol of hope A reminder that God’s dwelling
place is in the heaven, where he can listen to all prayers.

 

19. NSOROMMA


nsor_lg
 

“child of the heavens [stars] “

symbol of guardianship A reminder that
God is the father and watches over all people.

 

20. NSAA


nsaa_lg
 

a type of hand-woven fabric

symbol of excellence, genuineness,
authenticity According to “The Adinkra Dictionary” by W. Bruce Willis, the nsaa
symbols reflects a saying: “nea onnim nsaa oto n’ago”, which he translates as
“He who does not know authentic Nsaa will buy the fakes.” The quality of Nsaa
has come to represent quality of workmanship in general.

 

21. NKYINKYIM


nkyi_lg
 

“twisting”

symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility

 

22. NKYIMU


nkyimu_lg
 

the crossed divisions made on adinkra cloth before stamping

symbol of
skillfulness, precision Before adinkra cloth is stamped with the symbols, the
artisan blocks off the cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a
broad-tooth comb. This preparation is symbolic of the exacting technique which
results in the highest quality product.

 

23. NYAME DUA


nyamedua_lg
 

“tree of god” – altar

symbol of God’s presence and protection The
Nyame Dua is a sacred spot where rituals are performed. Erected in front of the
house or compound, it is crafted from a tree that has been cut where three or
more branches come together. This stake holds an earthenware vessell filled
with water and herbs or other symbolic materials for purification and blessing
rituals.

 

24. NKONSONKONSON


nkon_lg
 

“chain link”

symbol of unity and human relations A reminder to
contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength

 

25. NEA OPE SE OBEDI HENE


neaope_lg
 

“he who wants to be king “

symbol of service and leadership From the
expression “Nea ope se obedi hene daakye no, firi ase sue som ansa” meaning “He
who wants to be king in the future must first learn to serve.” Source: 
Cloth As Metaphorby
G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

26. NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU


neao_lg
 

“He who does not know can know from learning”
symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge
Source: 
Cloth As
Metaphor
 by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

27. MPUANNUM


mpua_lg
 

“five tufts” (of hair)

symbol of priestly office, loyalty and
adroitness “This symbol is said to be the hairstyle of joy. It is the
traditional hairstyle of the priestesses. … The design of the adinkra symbol
mpuannum resembles the way the priestesses’ hair was tied. … It also
represents the devotion and faithfulness one displays when doing a task
required of one. In addition, mpuannum means loyalty or the embodiment of lofty
duty to a desired goal.” – W. Bruce Willis, The Adinkra Dictionary

 

28. MPATAPO


mpat_lg
 

“knot of pacification/reconciliation”

symbol of reconciliation,
peacemaking and pacification Mpatapo represents the bond or knot that binds
parties in a dispute to a peaceful, harmonious reconciliation. It is a symbol
of peacemaking after strife.

 

29. MMUSUYIDEE


mmus_lg
 

“that which removes bad luck”

symbol of good furtune and sanctity

 

30. MMERE DANE


mmeredane_lg
 

“time changes ” symbol of change, life’s dynamics Source:
Cloth As
Metaphor
 by G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

31. MFRAMADAN


mfra_lg
 

“wind-resistant house”

symbol of fortitude and readiness to face life’s
vicissitudes ”

This symbol suggests a reinforced or well-built home — one built
to withstand windy and treacherous conditions. It reflects in Asante history a
clause in the unwritten constitutution of the Golden Stool. Oral acocunts say
that according to that clause, mud houses in Kumasi must be reinforced with
turf. This reinforcing would cause the house to be sturdier and resistant to
unfavorable weather conditions.” –from The Adinkra Dictionary by W.
Bruce Willis

 

32. ME WARE WO


mewarewo_lg
 

“I shall marry you ” symbol of commitment, perseverance From
the expression “No one rushes into the job of mixing the concrete for building
the house of marriage.” See 
Cloth As
Metaphor
 by G.F. Kojo Arthur, pp. 89, 163.

 

33. MATE MASIE


mate_lg
 

“What I hear, I keep”

symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence The
implied meaning of the phrase “mate masie” is “I understand”. Understanding
means wisdom and knowledge, but it also represents the prudence of taking into
consideration what another person has said.

 

34. KWATAKYE ATIKO


kwat_lg
 

“hair style of an Asante war captain”

symbol of bravery and valor “This
symbols is said to be a special hair style of Kwatakye, a war captain of old
Asante. The symbol has come to represent bravery and fearlessness. It is also
given as an earned title to any brave son of an Akan community.”

– W. Bruce Willis, The Adinkra Dictionary

 

35. KINTINKANTAN


kint_lg
 

“puffed up extravagance”

symbol of arrogance

 

36. KETE PA


ketepa_lg
 

“good bed ” symbol of a good marriage From the expression that
a woman who has a good marriage is said to sleep on a good bed. See 
Cloth As
Metaphor
 by G.F. Kojo Arthur, pp. 87-89

 

37. HYE WON HYE


hyew_lg
 

“that which does not burn “

symbol of imperishability and endurance
This symbol gets its meaning from traditional priests that were able to walk on
fire without burning their feet, an inspiration to others to endure and
overcome difficulties.

 

38. HWE MU DUA


hwem_lg
 

“measuring stick”

symbol of examination and quality control This symbol
stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in production of
goods or in human endeavors.

 

39. GYE NYAME


gyen_lg
 

“except for God”

symbol of the supremacy of God This unique and
beautiful symbol is ubiquitous in Ghana. It is by far the most popular for use
in decoration, a reflection on the deeply religious character of the Ghanaian
people

 

40. FUNTUNFUNEFU-DENKYEMFUNEFU


funt_lg
 

“Siamese crocodiles”

symbol of democracy and unity The Siamese
crocodiles share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular symbol is
a remind that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it.

 

41. FOFO


fofo_lg
 

“yellow flowered plant”

symbol of jealousy and envy “When the fofo’s
petals drop, they turn into black spiky-like seeds. The Akan liken the nature
of this plant to a jealous person.” – The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis
There is a Akan proverb associated with this symbol: “What the fofo plant
wishes is that the gyinantwi seeds turn black.”

 

42. FIHANKRA


fiha_lg
 

“house/compound”

symbol of security and safety Typical of Akan (Asante)
architecture, the communal housing compound has only one entrance and exit.

 

43. FAWOHODIE


fawo_lg
 

“independence” symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation
“From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation:
“Independence comes with its responsibilities.” – from 
Cloth As Metaphorby
G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

44. ESE NE TEKREMA


esen_lg
 

“the teeth and the tongue”

symbol of friendship and interdependence The
teeth and the tongue play interdependent roles in the mouth. They may come into
conflict, but they need to work together.

 

45. EPA


epa_lg
 

“handcuffs”

symbol of law and justice, slavery and captivity Adolph
Agbo, in “Values of Adinkra Symbols” notes that handcuffs were introduced in
Africa as a result of the slave trade, and later became popular among chiefs in
cuffing offenders of the law. “The symbol reminds offenders of the
uncompromising nature of the law. It however discourages all forms of slavery.”

46. EBAN

 


eban_lg
 

“fence”

symbol of love, safety and security The home to the Akan is a
special place. A home which has a fence around it is considered to be an ideal
residence. The fence symbolically separates and secures the family from the
outside. Because of the security and the protection that a fence affords, the
symbol is also associated with the security and safety one finds in love. —
from 
The Adinkra
Dictionary

 

47. DWENNIMMEN


dwen_lg
 

“ram’s horns”

symbol of humility together with strength The ram will
fight fiercely against an adversary, but it also submits humbly to slaughter,
emphasizing that even the strong need to be humble.

 

48. DUAFE


duafe_lg
 

“wooden comb”

symbol of beauty and cleanliness; symbols of desirable
feminine qualities The meaning of this symbol is characterized slightly
differently in “The Adinkra Dictionary” and “The Values of Adinkra Symbols”;
the former emphasizes more abstract qualities of feminine goodness, love and
care, while the latter has a more literal interpretation, looking one’s best
and good hygiene. In any case, the duafe was a prized possession of the Akan
woman, used to comb and plait her hair.

 

49. DENKYEM


denk_lg
 

“crocodile”

symbol of adaptability The crocodile lives in the water,
yet breathes the air, demonstrating an abil

 

50. DAME-DAME


dame_lg
 

name of a board game

symbol of intelligence and ingenuity

 

51. BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO


boam_lg
 

“Help me and let me help you” symbol of
cooperation and interdependence Source:
“Cloth As Metaphor” by
G.F. Kojo Arthur

 

52. BI NKA BI


bink_lg
 

“No one should bite the other”

symbol of peace and harmony This symbol
cautions against provocation and strife. The image is based on two fish biting
each other tails.

 

53. BESE SAKA


bese_lg
 

“sack of cola nuts”

symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty,
togetherness and unity The cola nut played an important role in the economic
life of Ghana. A widely-used cash crop, it is closely associated with affluence
and abundance. This symbol also represents the role of agriculture and trade in
bringing peoples together.

 

54. AYA


aya_lg
 

“fern”

symbol of endurance and resourcefulness The fern is a hardy
plant that can grow in difficult places. “An individual who wears this symbol
suggests that he has endured many adversities and outlasted much difficulty.”
(Willis, The Adinkra Dictionary)

 

55. ASASE YE DURU


asas_lg
 

“the Earth has weight”

symbol of providence and the divinity of Mother
Earth This symbol represents the importance of the Earth in sustaining life.

 

56. ADINKRAHENE


adin_lg
 

“Chief of the adinkra symbols” symbol of greatness,
charisma and leadership This symbol is said to have played an inspiring role in
the designing of other symbols. it signifies the importance of playing a
leadership role.

 

57. AKOBEN


akob_lg
 

“war horn” symbol of vigilance and wariness Akoben is a horn
used to sound a battle cry.

 

58. AKOFENA


akofena_lg
 

“sword of war ” symbol of courage, valor, and heroism The
crossed swords were a popular motif in the heraldic shields of many former Akan
states. In addition to recognizing courage and valor, the swords can represent
legitimate state authority.

 

59. AKOKO NAN


akok_lg
 

“the leg of a hen”

symbol of nurturing and discipline The full name of
this symbol translates to “The hen treads on her chicks, but she does not kill
them.” This represents the ideal nature of parents, being both protective and
corrective. An exhortation to nurture children, but a warning not to pamper
them.

 

60. AKOMA NTOSO


akon_lg
 

“linked hearts”

symbol of understanding and agreement

 

62. ANANSE NTONTAN


anan_lg
 

“spider’s web” symbol of wisdom, creativity and the
complexities of life Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African
folktales.

63. AKOMA

 


akom_lg
 

“the heart”

symbol of patience and tolerance According to Agbo, when a
person is said to “have a heart in his stomach,” that person is very tolerant.

 

Here is a list of books curated by Jean MacDonald to learn more about African design, visuals, and symbols (Disclaimer: the link below are with the curator amazon affiliate’s code)


adinkra_dictionary
  The Adinkra dictionary : A Visual Primer on the Language of Adinkra by W. Bruce Willis
($22-$25, depending on condition; 314 pages) The most comprehensive guide to
adinkra available, with detailed information and alternative versions of each
symbol, plus the history of Ghana, the development of Ashanti culture, and a
brief intro to the Twi language–all in 314 pages! No longer available from the
publisher; I bought this used on Amazon for about $25, and it is really worth it,
if you are interested in adinkra and Ghana in general.If you don’t see a copy
available at a reasonable price on Amazon, check back again. The supply of books
depends on the secondhand book dealers that work through Amazon.

african_designs
  African Designs from Traditional Sources by Geoffrey Williams ($10.36; 200 pages; 378
illustrations) A wide range of designs and symbols from African tribes including
the Ashanti that can be reproduced or enlarged for use in art and design
projects.

african_design
  Traditional African Designs by Gregory Mirow ($6.95; 43 pages, 200 illustrations) A
inexpensive book of clip art, which includes adinkra among other African
traditional designs, which can be used in a wide variety of craft and design
projects.

african_design_book
  African Designs of the Congo, Nigeria, the Cameroons and the Guinea Coast by Caren
Caraway ($11.17; 144 pages) Copyright-free art from some of Ghana’s neighboring
countries, which can be used for graphic treatments, craft designs, and interior
or exterior decoration.