African Symbols

Anthropology: Popular African Symbols and Their Meanings

African symbols, often known as Adinkra, are Ghanaian symbols that express notions or aphorisms. Adinkra widely appears in textiles, logos, pottery and also in walls and other architectural elements. In addition, some traditional Akan goldweights have Adinkra emblems.

Legba African Symbol
Credit: Pinterest

Some of the famous African symbols include the following:

Legba

Legba is a Voodoo god from West Africa and the Caribbean. This God has several names as per the region where people worship him. However, in Haiti, he is popular as Papa Legba. Papa Legba is the protector of the Poto Mitan, the family’s power and support centre. He also facilitates communication between people and the spirit realm. According to West African Voodoo beliefs, spirits of the dead can only occupy one’s body with Papa Legba’s permission.

Legba’s insignia usually has a red background, which is one of his favourite colours. The symbol has multiple keys representing Legba’s dominion over communications and transit modes, like locks, gates, and passageways; it also includes a cane, as Papa Legba is an elderly, frail man in the Haitian religion.

Gye Nyame

Gye Nyame, which means “except for God,” symbolizes God’s omnipotence by reminding people that they shouldn’t be afraid of anything except God. Except for God, no one knows the beginning of life. Also, no one will survive to see the end, according to another reading of “except for God.” Thus, Gye Nyame denotes acknowledgement of God’s dominance over all beings and hence is the one who is feared and revered by all. It is one of several Adinkra symbols utilized by the Akan people in various decorations, clothes, and artwork in West Africa and Ghana.

Some claim the African symbol resembles a spiral galaxy or two hands making distinct movements, implying that God is superior to today’s primary male and female identifications. The Akan people’s use of this symbol demonstrates a highly complex written language that transmitted religious and cultural ideals and some knowledge of astronomy, demonstrating their intelligence and indicating that they were a more evolved civilization.

Nkisi Sarabande

A representation of a bakongo cosmogram is Nkisi Sarabanda, which represents the spirit’s signature. This symbol depicts how the Congo-Angolans regarded the interplay between the spiritual and material realms. It can also be between the living and the dead, as the Congo-Angolans believe that both worlds are inextricably linked. A Nkisi is a spiritual artefact used for worship discovered in sites where enslaved Africans once resided, such as plantation dwellings.

Nkisis demonstrates the evolution of African American culture by being fundamentally African items made with American elements. It also highlights a facet of African and American culture’s mingling. Sarabanda means “highest spirit.” Because the Congolese had a Christian leaning, part of the sign is in the shape of a cross. Communication occurs at the cross’s centre, where worlds collide, and people once thought ghosts sat there. The arrows stand for four winds across the universe, and the African symbol as a whole resembles a spiral galaxy, indicating their interest in astronomy and affection for nature.

Nsoromma African Symbol
Credit: Symbolikon

Nsoromma

Nsoromma, which means “children of the heavens” or “star,” represents God’s care and how he keeps an eye on all living things. The Ghanaian people follow this symbol throughout their lives. God’s protection is constant, just like the stars in the sky. The constellations likewise embody the notion of light slashing through the darkness as a saviour or guardian. The sign denotes the existence of a spiritual realm in which our forefathers and mothers live and watch over us, providing a sense of security and wholeness. Nsoromma’s message is to live life to the fullest, knowing that God is there to support and empower you.

Asase Ye Duru

Asase Ye Duru is a sign that represents power, providence, and divinity. It means “the earth has no weight.” The African symbol is one of the numerous adinkras, or visual representations of key concepts, made by Ghana’s Akan people. Asase Ye Duru emphasizes the importance of Earth and its conversation. Therefore, people must respect and care for the Earth, and they should never act in ways that could harm it directly or indirectly. Sayings such as Tumi nyina ne asase, which means “All power comes from the earth,” and Asase ye Duru sen epo, which means “The earth is heavier than the sea,” demonstrate the importance of the Earth to Ghanaians.

Hye Won Hye

The precise translation of Hye won hye is “something which does not burn.” The significance of this emblem draws from traditional African priests’ traditions of walking on hot coals without burning their feet. The act of walking over hot coals without harming oneself defies human logic, and it demonstrates the priests’ holiness and physical and mental fortitude, which enabled this seemingly impossible feat to conquer. Hye Won Hye is an encouragement to others to be tough in difficult times and persevere through adversity.

Ankh

In Ancient Egypt, the ankh symbol—also known as the key of life or the Nile—represented eternal life. The ankh is the first—or original—cross created by Africans many years ago. It is frequently depicted in the hands of critical Egyptian figures like pharaohs and kings to symbolize their immortality. The ankh is also frequently represented in temples and the hands of key Egyptian gods like Osiris, Isis, and Ra. It might also have a physical meaning: the ankh could represent water, air, and the sun in Ancient Egyptian civilization, all of which provide and preserve life.

Ankhs were also customarily placed in sarcophagi to guarantee life after death. Although the ankh is a well-known hieroglyph, its origins are unknown. Some argue that the ankh and the Knot of Isis signify the same thing: an elaborate bow due to the ankh’s resemblance to the Knot of Isis. Other ideas believe that the ankh represents the unification of heaven and Earth or a ceremonial belt that connects male and feminine emblems.

Medicine Wheel

Many Native American tribes use the Medicine Wheel, also known as “the holy hoop,” to symbolize healing and health. The medicine wheel appears in various art forms, such as paintings or artefacts and physical structures on the land. In addition, the medicine wheel serves as guidance for Native Americans in terms of living a life of hard effort and self-improvement. Therefore, the medicine wheel may have some significance. However, because no written records refer to the purpose of the medicine wheel, its purpose remains a mystery.

Latin Cross
Credit: Wikimedia

Latin Cross

The Latin cross, sometimes known as a crucifix, is thought to symbolize Christ’s crucifixion. The Latin cross is a typographic descendant of the Egyptian dagger, or obelisk, denoting death. In Ancient Rome, the cross began as a pagan emblem in Asian and African countries and as a platform for crucifixion. The cross could have meant the four directions, good luck, fertility, life, and the connection between heaven and Earth before Christians used it as a symbol of their faith. On the other hand, the cross took on a new significance after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, symbolizing Christ’s sacrifice and commitment to the people.

Cross worship extended throughout Europe, but it also had a significant impact on European colonies in Africa. Many enslaved Africans found it increasingly difficult to maintain their customs and beliefs as they migrated to New World in the 15th century. Due to religious tyranny by white Christian slave owners and the broader devastation of African culture, indigenous African faiths suffocated in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, Enslaved Africans could infuse components of their religions into Christian theology, providing for more religious tolerance and freedom.

Tanit

Tanit is a well-known emblem of the Islamic faith, although it initially didn’t appear or was mentioned in the Qur’an. However, because of how the Ottoman Empire first accepted it, it became connected with Islamic beliefs. This emblem and African symbol , which is part of the monument, commemorates African Muslims and how many of their funerals were simply shrouds or a ring of pebbles, as typical Muslim burials were.

Manman Brigitte

Manman Brigitte, also known as Gran Brigitte, was the wife of Baron and a lwa of death in African Voodoo. Her spirit, like Baron’s, protects cemeteries and tombs and takes the souls of the deceased. In addition, she can heal illnesses and choose the fate of people who are dying or unwell. Manman Brigitte is best known for her role in Haitian Voodoo. “Manman Brijit, li soti nan anglete,” or “Manman Brigitte, she comes from England,” according to an ancient ritual hymn. Many people sacrifice rum to summon this lwa because of her kind personality.

Yowa

Yowa is a bakongo cosmogram that depicts the process of human life continuation through contact between the living and the dead realms. It represents the journey of souls through planets throughout the rebirth process. The arrows represent the movement of spirits. It also portrayed that communication between the worlds of the living and the dead takes place at the cross in the symbol’s centre. Many cosmograms appeared beneath plantation homes, and they were away for Africans to establish and bring their culture to America. These emblems serve as a concrete reminder of their culture’s revival in America and affirmation of their place in the new world.

Baron

In the African Voodoo religion, Baron is a death lwa. He is famous as the “Master of the Cemetery” or “Master of the Dead,” He is a masculine lwa who guards cemeteries and controls death. The fate of dying or sick individuals owing to magical spells is in the hands of the Baron. When someone dies, the Baron creates a cemetery for them and transports their spirit to the afterlife. The cross that commemorates Baron was dedicated to Baron and set on the grave of the first dead human buried in a Haiti cemetery. He’s usually portrays as a wandering corpse dressed in traditional Haitian burial garb. He frequently appears with a cigar in his mouth or a tumbler of rum in his hand. The Baron serves as a barrier between the realms of the living and the realms of the dead.

Matie Masie

Mate Masie is an adinkra symbol that means “I keep what I hear.” The symbol depicts four linked ears, reminding people of the importance of listening and communicating, especially in oral histories and cultures. It represents wisdom and knowledge in the form of understanding and awareness and the portrayal of wisdom and knowledge through such understanding and awareness. Because enslaved Africans were not able or allowed to read, write, or even communicate due to the cruelty of overseers, oral history is vitally important in African American culture. Enslaved Africans had to speak in secret through songs that no one else could understand.

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Akoma Ntoso

Akoma ntoso is a Ghanaian adinkra symbol that means “connected hearts” in English. It is a metaphor for mutual understanding and agreement, as well as communal harmony. Four hearts connect in the physical sign, expressing mutual sympathy and the immortality of the soul. In addition, akoma ntoso encourages family and community solidarity.

Funtunfunefu Denkyemfunefu

Funtunfunefu A Ghanaian African symbol is Denkyemfunefu. “Siamese crocodiles” is the direct translation of Funtunfunefu Denkyemfunefu. Two conjoined crocodiles appear in the emblem, which represents democracy and collaboration. Crocodiles, who are generally autonomous species, work together and join to survive. The emblem also depicts religious tolerance and unity among different religions.

Dwennimmen

Dwennimmen, which means “ram’s horns,” represents the need for even the strongest to be humble. The sign depicts a bird’s eye view of two rams fighting, with the rams’ horns representing strength and humility through ram qualities. When encouraged, a ram will bravely fight its attackers but submit to slaughter if necessary, implying that even the strongest must be humble. Dwennimmen is represented at the burial cemetery by a mash-up of traditional African burial traditions and American burial practices.

Denkyem

Denkyem, which means “crocodile,” refers to specific crocodile characteristics prized in Ghanaian society. This adinkra sign represents adaptability. The crocodile exemplifies breathing air despite living in the water in swampy locations, demonstrating its adaptability to various situations. The crocodile is adaptable to many surroundings, but it is also a familiar creature in African folklore, where it is the most intelligent creature. Many Africans were abducted from their homes and put into a strange environment. This symbol represents all African Americans buried at this spot.

Akoma

Akoma stands for endurance and understanding radiating from the Asante people of modern-day Ghana. The literal meaning of the term is ‘heart’ and stands for it. It highlights love, unity, passion, endurance, patience, affection, tolerance, benevolence, and utter faithfulness. Additionally, the symbol represents forbearance during times of grave adversity and how patience is essential at that time. A person has “have a heart in his stomach” is said to be exceedingly tolerant by the Agbo people. It depicts the union of two hearts and contains the key to mutual understanding and long-term love. The heart is a portion of each of us that triggers emotions, becoming more human and connected. The Akoma emblem is significant in many cultures, and Ghanaian weddings use it widely.

Nsibidi Symbol

Nsibidi is a writing system that is still popular in southeastern Nigeria and Cameroon today. Except for hieroglyphics, it is Africa’s earliest form of writing. The symbols allude to abstract notions or acts rather than specific words. Nsibidi means “painful letters” in the Ekoid language, primarily spoken in southern Nigeria. While the symbol’s history is unknown, one idea claims it was related to leopard societies in Calabar. It operated as a source of legislative power before European colonists arrived and imposed their legal system.

Sankofa
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Sankofa

Sankofa is a Ghanaian akansha African symbol system, one of eight that Africans use to communicate with one another. “Look to the past to enlighten the future,” it means. It brings attention to the plight of enslaved Africans. Although slavery no longer exists, One should remember it rather than move on productively. Sankofa is a bird that looks to be flying forward while looking back. It implies that the past is incorporated into the future. Furthermore, this emblem resembles the symbols that enslaved Africans kept despite their enslavement.

Name Biribi Wo Soro

Nyame Biribi Wo Soro is a Ghanaian adinkra symbol from the Akan, a tribe predominantly located in the country’s southern regions that translates directly to “God is in the heavens.” It stands for hope or any affirmation for the Akan people. It is hope from God in the heavens for them and that He can hear them.

West African symbols also reflect famous proverbs and maxims, historical events, specific attitudes or behaviours associated with depicted people, or abstract notions. It is one of the numerous traditional fabrics that have origins in the region.

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