The Adinkra Dictionary: A Visual Primer on the Language of Adinkra by W. Bruce Willis

from the back cover

Adinkra is the name given the colorful, hand-painted and hand-embroidered cloth used for mourning by the Akan people of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. Stylistic symbols called adinkra symbols are printed on these cloths. The cloth and symbols express the wearer's feelings and sentiment about the deceased. The symbols convey a parting message to that individual. When a person wears this type of clothing, one knows that the person is in mourning.

Adinkra is an Akan word. Akan is the language of the Akan people, who comprise about one-half of the population of Ghana. Adinkra literally means "saying good-bye (farewell) to the dead." Adinkra implies a philosophical message that one conveys when mourning during a funeral or the post-burial memorial.

Adinkra constitutes a "system" of verbal and visual imagery. Adinkra symbols are figurative and stylized geometric images that embody poetic messages, proverbs, or aphorisms. Some of the symbols express the legendary history of the Akan people, and others are cultural metaphors and aphorisms about myths, legends, beliefs, and rituals. They contain multilayered meanings and profound truths. They provide a framework of moral virtues and lessons for the good life. They epitomize the Akan world view and their quest for truth and righteousness in the world.

Adinkra symbols have been in use for about two hundred years or so. There are about seventy to eighty symbols that are sometimes referred to as the core symbols. These core adinkra symbols reflect the philosophy, religious beliefs, social values, and political history of the Akan people.

Economic change in Ghana has led to the manufacture of adinkra in factories. The new factory-made adinkra is quite fashionable and popular. Commercial adinkra cloths have a less formal status than the traditional hand-painted cloth. The commercial adinkra cloth is used for many occasions besides funeral ceremonies. It is now worn extensively as everyday clothing. Adinkra is popular throughout Akan-Ghana, but it is generally not worn in the other areas of Ghana. Adinkra has also become an important cultural export from Ghana to the rest of the world. Adinkra prints, curtains, bedspreads, and jewelry can be found in many places in the African and the African-American community. Adinkra designs are used as artistic motifs in interior decorating, on clothing, stationery, and business cards, and for the logos and mottos of organizations and businesses. Thus, adinkra is in wide use today. Although several short books and booklets have been written on adinkra in the past, this book provides a comprehensive perspective on the adinkra tradition and its past and present social and historical context.

· a dictionary-type explanation of each symbol.
· a commentary on the derivation and meaning of the symbols.
· comprehensive glossaries of design, definitions, literal translations, alphabetical definitions, and phonetics.
· a chart of commonly confused adinkra symbols.
· a short, illustrated history of Ghana.
· a history of the evolution and the production of adinkra.
· a short history of the Akan (Twi) language.
· a brief section on Akan (Twi) pronunciation.
· a listing of Ghana's significant facts and important events
· a section listing proverbs associated with adinkra symbols
· a section containing previous published catalogings of the adinkra symbols
· a craft section illustrating the construction of personal adinkra stamps
· over twenty-five illustrated maps and associated charts.
· over five hundred drawings and illustrations.