Leslie's Adinkra Project

Why I Illustrate Adinkra

Adinkra symbols were created by the Akan of Ghana and also by the Gyaman of Côte D’Ivoire in the early 1800’s for communication purposes.

The Akan is an assemblage of gold-producing forest states in western Africa located between the Comoé and Volta rivers (the Gold Coast).

"Adinkra" was the name of the king of Gyaman (present day Côte D’Ivoire) Nana Kofi Adinkra. You can read more about "The Golden Stool incident" on many different web sites.

The word “Adinkra” is an Akan word (in Ghana) which means “Farewell” or “Goodbye” (the Twi language) In early times along the Gold Coast, not everyone was able to read, write or understand the varied tribal languages, most understood symbols. A result of the need to communicate between tribes Adinkra became a system of oral, illustrated and verbal communication. "Adinkra symbols" became a reflection of various symbolic representations of ethics, morality, advice, concepts and ideas. The symbols represent African wisdom and concepts, and are often linked with proverbs.

There are hundreds of Adinkra in existence, new symbols and meanings are constantly being developed. I do not know the exact number, there are thousands of combinations. “The three most important hand-woven Adinkra cloths were made from cotton (shedder) and used for funerary. If the cloth was to serve as mourning dress, it was dyed one of three colors: red, russet brown, or a dark blue-black. The growing popularity of Adinkra has evolved to the point where the wearing of stamped cloths for non-funerary occasions has become common, corporate institutions even make use of these symbols as their logos.

The illustrations I do of Adinkra symbols are done using fabrics instead of the traditional stamping method. The project is my tribute, and way of showing respect to my ancestors.  I believe symbols that were similar to Adinkra were used to mark the pathway to freedom in early America. Underground railroad quilts used such symbols, they were stitched into quilts, carved on fences and painted on barns in early America. During the civil rights struggles of the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s similar symbols came into use again.

Today logos are a modern day form of Adinkra Symbols. The Akofena Adinkra (Sword of War) may have been one of the first known coat of arms.

I have to date been able to document and illustrate 190 with definitions.


  1. Love them!Your talents are amazing.

  2. My first thought was that they looked like a quilt stitched together. Then I got towards the end of the post and it says they used such symbolism in quilts. I love history and I love finding out there are deeper roots and meaning to it all. I've never heard of this before & I look forward to learning more. Your work here is very beautiful. I like how you utilized modern day technology to persevere the pieces. Digital content can't be erased, destroyed or lost to time and the elements.

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