Unlike any other fabric, the Adinkra cloth is originated from the Asante peoples of Ghana as the traditional funerary attire. Other neighbouring communities can also be seen with this attire.
According to the scholar J. B. Danquah, he defines adinkra as, “to part, be separated, to leave one another, to say good-bye.” Amongst all the ritual occasions of the Asante people, funerals are one of the most lavish events and portray a huge part of their still strong commitment to venerating their ancestors.
Some Adinkra cloths may have over twenty different motifs applied to the surface while others may just have a single stamped design. Adinkra cloths are differentiated by their designs or patterns which are applied to carved gourd stamps. A black dye is further placed within a rectilinear grid whose divisions are created by a three or four tine comb which is brushed in measured segments across the width and length of the cloth.
Colors of Adinkra
One of the main signatures of an Adinkra cloth is it’s stamped designs. In fact, before a cloth can be called adinkra, it must possess these stamped designs.
For festivities and a number of special occasions that involve celebrations, the Adinkra cloths, print on a brightly coloured fabric or remain white. They are commonly referred to as “Sunday adinkra”. Like the Kente cloth, the adinkra are used as festive dress for a variety of special occasions and are not used during funerals.
In the case of mourning where the attire is to be worn in such occasion, the Adinkra cloth is dyed in one of these colors:
I.) Russet brown
II.) Dark blue black
There are obvious variations in practices amongst wearers of the Adinkra cloth. According to sources, the brown Adinkra is worn only by the closest members of the family, but some other people believe that this is particularly the role of the red cloths.
The rich design vocabulary found on the stamps is of particular interest in the study and appreciation of the adinkra cloth.
Like the Asante Kente, an important factor in the popularity of the Adinkra cloth in African American communities is the verbal component of its imagery.
Individual adinkra motifs have transcended clothing forms to become an important element in graphic design, fine arts, and architecture. Roller printed mill-woven adinkra is almost as commercially successful as the machine-made Kente and can be seen in many of the same clothing forms, like in bags, hats, shawls and scarves.
It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that there were about fifty frequently repeated motifs on the Adinkra. The visual images possess a highly conventionalized verbal component with meanings elucidated by renowned and popular just like most of the Asante arts.
By the twenty-first century, the corpus of stamp designs increased to over five hundred. Among these stamp designs include numerous references to the modern world, including hydroelectric power, cell phones, and automobiles.
Most of the motifs portray the logos of various political parties in Ghana which have fought for power since independence. Some of these designs include images of a hand, elephant, cocoa tree, and cock.
A popular trend amongst these designs is a series of stamps that spell out their messages so rather than images, they appear in words. For instance, “EKAA NSEE NKOA” carved into a gourd stamp which makes reference to a longer proverb that translates as: “The woodpecker celebrates the death of the onyina tree.” The proverb is a kind of cycle-of-life statement since the bird nests and feeds in the dead tree.
The origin of adinkra in script-filled, handwritten (albeit Arabic) inscribed cloths is recalled by this practice.