The Historical Development and Printing Processes of The Famous Adinkra

Adinkra is a traditional cloth that is printed using the block printing technique. The finished cloth is a traditional mourning cloth worn for funeral occasions. The word ‘Adinkra’ means ‘farewell’ or ‘goodbye’. It is worn to bid farewell and part ways with the deceased. The cloth has several symbolic patterns usually referred to as Adinkra symbols. These symbols carry symbolic connotations which usually explain the values, norms, and beliefs of the people.

Historical traditions have it that the Adinkra patterns originated from the Gyamans of La cote d’Voire. It is said that in the nineteenth century, the then king of the Gyaman kingdom by name Nana Kofi Adinkra angered the then Asantehene Nana Bonsu Panyin by trying to copy the golden stool. This made a war to ensue between the Asantes in the Ashanti region of Ghana and the Gyamans of La cote d’Voire. The Gyamans were defeated and their king Kofi Adinkra was killed. The craftsmen who had the skill for creating the patterns or symbols were taken as slaves to the Ashanti region of Ghana along with some soldiers. These slaves taught the Asantes how to create the symbols.

However, the Asantes copied their skill and improved on the motifs. They created several others with geometric patterns and associated numerous proverbial sayings and meanings that reflected their cultural beliefs, customs, norms and ideas with them. Another school of thought has it that the Asantes learnt the symbols from those that were inscribed on the umbrella, clothes, and columns of the stool of Nana Kofi Adinkra after he was killed and his people captured.

Another view says that the Adinkra designs were first made for the kings of Denkyira, Takyiman, and Asante in ancient times, long before the reign of king Adinkra. It was then called ‘Adwinikena’, believed to have been later corrupted to Adinkra. It is also believed by another school of thought that the Muslims inspired the most abstracted symbols. The most obvious one is the crescent moon and star symbol, which symbolizes faithfulness.

The stamps for printing the Adinkra patterns are cut from gourd or pieces of calabash about three inches in diameter. Three or four sticks of stiff palm-leaf ribs are attached to the calabash and tied together at one end to serve as a handle, held between the forefinger and thumb.

The adinkra dye which is a vegetable dye is extracted from the bark of the badie tree. It is grown mostly in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. The barks removed are boiled for about three hours. The liquid formed is collected and poured into the container. Enough water is again poured onto the stuff and boiled for some time. The liquid is collected and poured into the container. This process is repeated as long as the stuff continues to yield the dye.

The collected dye is then boiled for about four hours till the colour turns black and sticky. Originally, iron fillings known as ‘etia’ were added to the solution during boiling but now it could be boiled without them. To make the dyes look shiny after printing, honey, albumen or sugar is added and stirred when it cools down.

The large piece of fabric is stretched taut on a clean ground by pegging the ends. Sometimes, the fabric is spread on a floor and covered with hard paper boards and nailed at the corners and the selvedges. The stamp block is dipped into the dye bowl and is shaken a bit if it picks too much of the dye. The stamp is applied directly, freehand onto the stretched cloth. The block is stamped on the cloth according to the design planned by the textile designer. After the printing, the cloth is dried. Today, due to modernization, the printed cloth is ironed from the back.

The history, tools, and materials, as well as the cloth production technique, is part of the historical traditions of the Asantes of Ghana. Therefore, tourists who tour the country must visit Adinkra cloth producing villages such as Ntonso and Adanwomase in the Ashanti region of Ghana to have firsthand experience on the interesting history and practical lessons on the indigenous but permanent printing procedure of this famous cloth of the Asantes of Ghana