Adinkra symbols are deeply layered images representing the history, philosophy, and religious beliefs of the Akan people of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. They stand for a broad spectrum of universal human values, including the importance of family, integrity, tolerance, harmony, determination, and protection. Some are believed to have evolved from the symbols found on Muslim amulets from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Adinkra patterns are used extensively in fabrics, and adinkra cloth is always worn at Akan funerals; the word itself has come to mean “farewell.” The symbols can also be found on pottery, in architecture, jewelry, and even in advertising.
According to legend, the word adinkra came from the king of Gyaman (in present day Cote d’Ivoire), Nani kofi Adinkra, who was known for the colorful symbols that adorned his clothing. In 1818, King Adinkra was captured in battle by the Ashanti people of Ghana. He was killed, and his colorful robe taken by King Nana Osei Bonsu-Panyin as a trophy. Along with the robe came the knowledge of how to make adinkra aduru (the special ink used in the printing) and the process of stamping the designs onto cotton cloth.