Adinkra Cloth

Introduction

Traditionally a major use of adinkra symbols is in the production of adinkra cloth. The term “adinkra” means farewell in the Akan language, hence the cloth is mainly worn at funerals.

Different types of adinkra cloth exist. These include:

  • Kobene (brick red)
  • Kuntukuni (dark brown)
  • Brisi (black)

These three are mostly used as funeral cloths. Brisi cloth may be produced without symbols.

Kwasiada (Sunday) Adinkra is printed on a white background and used for festive or special occasions including attending church on a Sunday.

Production of adinkra cloth

A major center of traditional adinkra cloth production is Ntonso in the Ashanti Region of Ghana where our team visited to find out more about the process of producing this fabric.

The fabric is made by stamping strips of selected fabrics with traditional Akan symbols in dyes. The strips of desired length are sewn together to form fabric of various sizes depending on the intended use.

The dye for producing the fabric is made from the bark and roots of the badeε and kuntukuni tree which grow in the Savannah regions of Northern Ghana. The bark of the badeε is soaked, pounded and boiled to produce a thick dye known as the Adinkra aduro. This is used to dye the fabric to obtain the desired colour. A thicker version of the dye is used to stamp the fabric.

Adinkra symbols are carved on to pieces of calabash (hard fruit of the calabash tree) to make a stamp attached to a handle. Strips of cloth or fabric are laid on solid surfaces. First the fabric is divided into sections using a hard comb carved from local hard wood and having two to eight prongs. The calabash stamps are then used to apply the adinkra symbols to the sections between the comb marks.

These strips are then hand- or machine- sewn to make adinkra cloth. The adinkra symbols carry and send unique messages which is in sync with the highly communicative Ghanaian culture. We have discussed the different adinkra symbols and their meanings on a different page on this website.

Other methods of adinkra cloth production include screen and machine printing. Kente strips or patterns can be incorporated into adinka cloth.

Usage

Adinkra cloth is worn like a toga, over the right shoulder. In the past it was the exclusive right of royalty and spiritual leaders, and only used for important ceremonies such as funerals. Today, the adinkra cloth is not exclusively worn by the Asante people. It is worn by other ethnic groups in Ghana on a variety of traditional social gatherings and festive occasions.

Dark versions of adinkra cloth are mostly worn at funerals while lighter versions are worn at weddings and other celebratory occasions.