Adinkra is a printed or stamped traditional cloth made by the Ashanti people in Ghana, especially in the village of Ntonso. Adinkra (ah-DEENK-rah) symbols have been used in Ghana on clothes, walls, pottery and as logos since the early 1800’s, when King Adinkra was a king from the Ivory Coast. The symbols each had a special meaning, and some have been passed on for over 100 years. Show your children these symbols, and talk to them about the meaning, the history, and techniques before beginning the art project below.
The adinkra symbols each have a name, and have a great meaning based in universal human values such as family, integrity, tolerance, harmony, determination among many others. Their names come from the language of the Ashante people, Twi. To make the adrinkra cloths, calabash gourds are carved and mounted on sticks. The dye is made by boiling the bark of the Kuntunki Tree with iron slag, to form a paste called adrinkra aduru. By dipping the symbol block into the paste ink, and then stamping it onto the cloth in linear designs, the cloth makers repeat a process that has not changed much in over a century.
Tribal chiefs will often times wear symbols that promote leadership, and thinking ahead. Brightly colored cloth called Kasaida is often worn for festivals. At funerals, mourning cloths are made with exquisite designs of symbols of respect for the departed loved one.
If you are interested in traveling to see textile workers, I recently learned of a tour group called Behind The Scenes Adventures, that specializes in trips to remote villages where the people still make all their own exquisite textiles (including a trip to Ghana to see how adinkra is made!). The pictures shown here were taken on one of these trips, and are used with permission by Cynthia Samaké © from www.btsadventures.com.
www.adinkra.org This web site has an adinkra symbol index and their explanations, plus downloadable adinkra symbols (right click, and save). The symbols and their explanations that you see on this page are from adinkra.org:
“African symbols known as adinkra are ubiquitous in Ghana, a beautiful West African country on the Atlantic, situated between Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. On cloth and walls, in pottery and logos, these Asante tribe symbols can be found everywhere. This site’s mission is to make available high-quality renditions of these African symbols at no cost for personal and non-profit uses.”
Adinkra Art Project
I found the following art project, designed to teach children about Ghanian adinkra print-making. The designer of the project, and author of the blog “A Faithful Attempt” is “Miss:” a K-12 Art Teacher who loves teaching Art and seeing the variety of creative solutions students come up with. She has taught Art in international schools around the world including the Caribbean, Southern Africa, France and Canada.
Here is her art project, West African Adinkra Printmaking, in her own words, and with pictures of her students in class. Thank you so much for allowing us to share this fantastic Art opportunity!
This is a West African printmaking project I did a few years ago with some Grade 6 students. For this project, instead of having students carve their stamps (which I have done before with knives and potatoes, but it’s tricky with the knives and the potato doesn’t seem to last long enough to finish the project), we drew our designs onto flat kitchen sponge cloths (from the Dollar Store). I believe fun foam sheets would also work well.
I gave the students handouts of real symbols and their meanings for inspiration. Students came up with their own design and it had to symbolize something personal to them.
Cut out the design and glue it onto a square of thick cardboard.
Paint the sponge stamp with black tempera or acrylic paint and test it in a sketchbook or a scrap piece of paper. Students needed to figure out for themselves how much paint to apply and how best to apply pressure.
Ok, so students are stamping away, building up their design. I asked for a symmetrical design but a lot of students went crazy with their own patterns…. Next time I teach this, I will insist the patterns are symmetrical and much closer together. I think, perhaps, some students got bored and just started randomly printing just to fill the paper….it can be a tedious and repetitive process. Next time, I need to teach this to a older grade or use a smaller sheet of paper.
If you would like to read more (as an adult) here is an excellent resource, with explanations of the symbols, techniques, history, and instructions on making your own stamp: The Adinkra dictionary: A visual primer on the language of Adinkra by W. Bruce Willis.