Adinkra Gourd stamps

Adinkra Stamps made of Calabash (Gourd) from Ghana, used to make Adinkra Cloth, assorted African symbols

Adinkra stamps are true ethnographic items – they are literally stamps for printing a variety of fabric known as Adinkra.  Adinkra cloth is made primarily by the Asante/Ashante people of Ghana, in West Africa and can be traced back to the 17th century.

The word "adinkra" means goodbye because originally clothes adorned with Adinkra symbols were only worn during ceremonies to honor the dead. The symbols worn on the mourner's clothing expressed the qualities attributed to the deceased.

The Ashante people living in the modern African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, stamp Adinkra symbols on cloth. The symbols are created by cutting a stamp out of the thick skin of a calabash gourd. The stamp is dipped in dye, made from tree bark, and then repeatedly pressed onto cloth to create patterns. Each of the stylized patterns has a name and meaning based on a proverb or historical legend. The shapes of humans, animals, plants, and objects inspired the geometric forms of the symbols. The number of symbols continue to grow.  One of the more common stamps, for example represents both God and also stands for “Nothing is greater than God.” Some scholars attribute up to 2,200 different designs with individual meanings.

Today Adinkra cloth is widely worn at social occasions in Ghana and the symbols are used to decorate objects. In modern times, they are used worldwide for every-day wear, bridal, formal and special occasions.
Each stamp is a one-of-a-kind hand crafted piece of art. While the stamps are beautiful, they also are functional on several levels: while they are used as stamps to transfer dyes to fabric, each design also has a specific meaning.
 


The making of adinkra cloth is a traditional art form in Ghana, West Africa, among the Asante people. It was worn originally at funerals as a sign of personal mourning, and almost all Asantes own at least one hand-made Adinkra cloth for this purpose.  Today Adinkra is made in many colors used for special events, both joyous, celebratory as well as for the traditional mourning.

To make the ink that the stamps are dipped in to, bark from the badee tree is peeled off and soaked overnight in water. It is pounded and boiled again in the same water. Large tins are used.

Each day the liquid is boiled in the same water for a week or more. In the last few days an iron stone is placed in the tin drum to give the dye its characteristic black color. When cool, the white of an egg is added to the dyestuff to give it a glossy appearance.

Master carvers create the stamps. Calabashes or gourds (similar to pumpkins) are harvested while still fresh and then the outer shell of the gourd is cut into rough-sized pieces.

After a design has been decided upon, the calabash pieces are then carved in a way as to allow for raised areas that will print as a positive. Negative areas are cut away and a tripod of splinters are pushed into the back of the gourd tied to the stamp as a handle.

To print the fabric, hand woven fabric is stretched taut over a level, horizontal wooden board that is covered with a padding of burlap. The calabash stamp is dipped into the dye then pressed onto the fabric. Sometimes a wooden comb is used to draw borders and lines around areas. Repeating a pattern is optional. Different stamps are often used on the same fabric.

After printing, the fabric is allowed to dry in the sun. There are two types of Adinkra: plain and embroidery (nwomu), where strips of fabric are attached by handstitching, or by embroidery with bright, primary colors. The original Adinkra cloth consisted of black glossy Adinkra designs (each with its symbolic meanings) printed on black, red or brown cloth.

Zanzibar Trading Company’s adinkra stamps are all used, true ethnographic items. We carefully hand select them and offer them to you as a truly unique treasure! Use them or just display them, they will definitely be a conversation piece!

VIEW OUR CURRENT INVENTORY OF ADINKRA STAMPS FROM GHANA (BULK QUANTITIES AVAILABLE)

SAMPLES OF SOME ADINKRA STAMP SHAPES AND THEIR MEANINGS:

please note this is a sampling and as there is some variation (and controversy) of actual names and meanings of adinkra stamps from region to region within Ghana and by various "experts" and researchers and authors (as well as over time), thus the below stamps are for reference only.  For a more detailed description of Adinkra stamps and their meanings, we recommend the following book: 

The Adinkra Stamp book, Cloth As Metaphor, by G.F. Kojo Arthur, catalogues over 700 Adinkra symbols and and their variations and discussing various themes encoded in the texts of proverbs, aphorisms and other verbal expressions related to these symbols, available at Amazon.com

SYMBOL   SYMBOL NAME SYMBOL MEANING SYMBOL CHARACTERISTICS
 
 

GYE NYAME

"except for God" supremacy of God
 

ADINKRAHENE

"chief of adinkra symbols" greatness, charisma, leadership
 

AKOBEN

"war horn" vigilance, wariness
 

AKOKONAN

"the leg of a hen" mercy, nurturing
 

AKOMA

"the heart" patience & tolerance
 

AKOMA NTOSO

"linked hearts" understanding, agreement
 

ASASE YE DURU

"the Earth has weight" divinity of Mother Earth
 

BESE SAKA

"sack of cola nuts" affluence, abundance, unity
 

BI NKA BI

"no one should bite the other" peace, harmony
 

BOA ME NA
ME MMOA WO

"help me and let me help you" cooperation, interdependence
 

DAME-DAME

name of a board game intelligence, ingenuity
 

DENKYEM

"crocodile" adaptability
 

DUAFE

"wooden comb" beauty, hygiene, feminine qualities

 

DWENNIMMEN

"ram's horns" humility and strength
 

EBAN

"fence" love, safety, security
 

EPA

"handcuffs" law, justice, slavery
 

ESE NE TEKREMA

"the teeth and the tongue" friendship, interdependence
 

FIHANKRA

"house/compound" security, safety

 

FOFO

"a yellow-flowered plant" jealousy, envy
 

FUNTUNFUNEFU
DENKYEMFUNEFU

"siamese crocodiles" democracy, unity in diversity
 

HWEMUDUA

"measuring stick" examination, quality control
 

HYE WONHYE

"that which cannot be burnt" imperishability, endurance
keta pa  

KETE PA

"good bed" good marriage
kintinkantan  

KINTINKANTAN

"puffed up extravagance" arrogance, extravagance
mate masie  

MATE MASIE

"what I hear, I keep" wisdom, knowledge, prudence
me ware wo  

ME WARE WO

"I shall marry you" commitment, perseverance
 

MMUSUYIDEE

"that which removes ill luck" good fortune, sanctity
 

MPATAPO

"knot of reconciliation" peacemaking, reconciliation
 

NKONSONKONSON

"chain links" unity, human relations
 

NKYIMU

the crossed divisions made on adinkra cloth before printing skillfulness, precision
 

NKYINKYIM

"twistings" initiative, dynamism, versatility
 

NSAA

type of hand-woven cloth excellence, genuineness, authenticity
 

NSOROMMA

"child of the heavens" guardianship
 

NYAME BIRIBI
WO SORO

"God is in the heavens" hope
 

NYAME NNWU
NA MAWU

"God never dies, therefore I cannot die" life after death
 

NYAME NTI

"by God's grace" faith & trust in God
 

NYANSAPO

"wisdom knot" wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience
 

ODO NNYEW
FIE KWAN

"love never loses its way home" power of love
 

OSRAM NE NSOROMMA

"the moon and the star" love, faithfulness, harmony
 

OWO FORO ADOBE

"snake climbing the raffia tree" steadfastness, prudence, diligence
 

OWUO ATWEDEE

"the ladder of death" mortality
 

SANKOFA type 1

"return and get it" learn from the past
 

SANKOFA type 2

"return and get it"  learn from the past
 

SESA WORUBAN

"I change or transform my life" transformation
 

TAMFO BEBRE

"the enemy will stew in his own juice" jealousy
 

WO NSA DA MU A

"if your hands are in the dish" democracy

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