From chiefs’ palace walls to the backs of plastic chairs, Adinkra symbols adorn almost every Ghanaian surface. Adinkra symbols represent Ashanti principles and communicate cultural beliefs and proverbs. The incredible vocational department of the Koforidua School for the Deaf (https://tinyurl.com/ycvp6z8b) produces custom batik fabric, utilizing Adinkra symbols to communicate the mission and values of the wearer. Expo has been lucky enough to partner with the KoDeaf School for the past several years to order locally produced fabric steeped in significance and meaning. This week, the Expo crew headed to the village of Ntonso, known as the Birthplace of Adinkra, to learn more about the symbols found on our personalized batik fabric.
Upon arrival in Ntonso we met David, knowledgeable founder of the Thread Foundation (https://threadfoundation.jimdo.com) which supports youth initiatives and conveying Adinkra values to the next generation. David started by explaining that the literal meaning of Adinkra “departing message” and has been used by the people of Ashanti as a means of communication for hundreds of years. Traditional Adinkra printing is done with the ink of boiled Badie tree bark and hand-carved stamps. We quickly identified the Adinkra symbols found on our fabric to be Wawa Aba, the seed of the wawa tree, and Ntesie, the symbol of wisdom. Delighted with our newly acquired knowledge we practiced stamping some fabric on our own. It was not until we were headed home that I had time to truly reflect on the significance of the Adinkra symbols that I proudly represent every time I wear my Expo fabric.
The Wawa seed is tough and durable, symbolizing hardiness and persistence. Despite the hard outer layer of the seed, the germinating seed is able to break through this covering and develop into an economically important tree widely used in Ghana. This means that nothing can hinder the growth of an idea that begins with strength and purpose. Wawa Aba is at the center of our design on the fabric, which I believe demonstrates that perseverance is at the heart of everything that Expo supports and teaches. Our initiatives promoting youth empowerment emphasize that determination and goal-setting is the key to success. Education is at the root of this, and the germinating seed of knowledge will allow students to grow into leaders of their communities.
The background pattern of our fabric is the Ntesie symbol, which refers to understanding and wisdom. At first thought, it would be clear why an organization supporting quality access to education would want to have wisdom as an underlying theme of our work. However, Ntesie means more than simply pursuing knowledge. This Adinkra symbol is associated with the proverb and aphorism “what I hear, I keep,” meaning that after learning about an issue or concept, one must carefully reflect on the significance of it and keep it within his or her heart. One can only gain wisdom by deep consideration and life application of obtained knowledge. For this reason, Expo aims to bring practical and hands-on learning into the classrooms through our Level Up Village STEAM classes. We also focus on experiential learning by allowing our Girls LEAP students to plan and execute a community service project. Without the opportunity to apply what they have learned, our students would not build their competence and wisdom.
I am proud to wear our batik fabric with Adinkra messages as it communicates exactly for what purpose Expo stands: encouraging the growth of wisdom through perseverance. Thank you KoDeaf School for helping us showcase our mission to everyone we meet!
MacDonald, Jean. “West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings.” Adinkra Symbols of West Africa, Well-Tempered Web Design, 2004, www.adinkra.org/.