What is Adinkra?

This program highlights ten unique Adinkra (ah-DEEN-krah) symbols from West Africa. The word Adinkra refers a type of cotton fabric printed with designs that represent character traits, concepts, and commonly held values of the Akan and Ashante people of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Adinkra celebrates good choices, advises against bad behaviors, and honors the life and spirit of the ancestors.

There are about 80 commonly used Adinkra symbols, and that number grows little by little as people make new symbols to add to the Adinkra vocabulary. Villages, politicians, workers, and businesses may have their own Adinkras. These symbols are used to add an extra layer of meaning to the design of clothing and many other things like pottery, furniture, sculpture, buildings, and commercial advertisements. Sometimes people don’t agree on the exact definition of a symbol, and the same symbol can be interpreted in slightly different ways by different people.

Each Character Classroom in “Drumming Up Character” contains a short lesson about a different Adinkra symbol, with an explanation of its meaning and a PDF download that students can print and color. 

These elegant symbols show that good character is universal – people in Africa, in North America, and elsewhere in the world share common values, regardless of race, religion, nationality, or language.

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