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Seven carved pattern stamps for textiles. Each stamp has a series of sticks along the backside of the outer edge from which they taper to a point where they are tied together with multi-coloured cloth pieces. The first stamp (part a) has a design consisting of a triangle with a jagged outer edge on one side and two lines curling inward at the more double-pointed end. The second stamp (part b) has a design consisting of an s-swirl pattern. The third stamp (part c) has a design consisting of double v's pointing toward the centre to create an x-shape. The fourth stamp (part d) has a design consisting of four jagged-edges diamond shapes at each corner. The fifth stamp (part e) has a design consisting of a sun-like shape with two circles at the centre, from which rays emanate. The sixth stamp (part f) has a design consisting of a four-legged cross-shaped swirl pattern. The last stamp (part g) has a design consisting of four lines curling inward at each corner.

History Of Use

Adinkra is an ideographic communication system. Each sign represents a host of interconnected ideas, more quickly referenced by a phrase or proverb. There are over 100 signs in common use, although some carvers create a few of their own. Speaking in proverbs and illusions is a sign of prestige and refinement in Akan culture- Adinkra is a way to do this in visual form. Over the 20th century, Adinkra has become a source of pride and a marker of West African identity both in regional nationalisms (particularly Ghanaian) and in the diaspora. In its earliest iterations, these characters appeared only on textiles worn at funerals by elite members of society. Since gaining independence in the mid-20th century, usage in West African has grown to be unlimited by social class or medium - anyone can wear them and they can appear on a wide range of material from everyday textiles (e.g. K2.455) to incorporation in architecture. For everyday textiles, cloth is stamped at local workshops.

Cultural Context


Iconographic Meaning

In reference to the image showing the stamps, from left to right: 1. Manni na mede hwe wo, “I just have to watch you with my eyes, nothing more,” expresses the pain of having to punish a beloved child who has done wrong. It indicates emotional firmness. This may be a novel sign created by one particular carver. 2. Bi nka bi, “No one should bite the other,” encourages peace and harmony as well as the unity of justice and honesty. 3. Akyekyedee, “A turtle’s back.” 4. Aban kaba, “A two-storey dwelling,” which is a symbol of government and authority. The same term is used for handcuffs or manacles. 5. Mako nyinaa mpatu mmere, “All peppers do not ripen at the same time,” is a reminder of unequal development, meaning fate will not smile on everyone equally. It can also be a reminder that advantages are not permanent. 6. Kode emower ewa, “Talons of the eagle,” representing loyalty and devotion to service. Some traditions view this symbol as relating to the queen mother’s female attendants. 7. Dwaniman, “Ram’s horns,” representing strength and humility.

Specific Techniques

Stamps are made out of dry, thick pieces of calabash gourd, after the gourd has been cut into multiple palm sized pieces. On each piece the pattern of the symbol is drawn with pencil, then that symbol is carved out in relief with a gouge. The stamps are dipped in adinkra aduru, an ink prepared by boiling chunks of iron slag and bark from the Bridelia ferruginea tree, locally called Badie, into a thick paste that is liquefied before use. Stamps are soaked in between uses on different pieces of fabric. Grooves and negative spaces of the symbol are scraped clean between printings.

Item History

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