adinkra_tattooI have been looking at designing my own tattoo and I would like one that has some meaning but is abstract. I think I want something that means something that is relevant to me that is neither a picture nor in writing.

I started out looking at Japanese and Chinese sayings and symbols. I like the Yin and Yang symbol best but it is really common – so many people have one and some of the designs I saw were fabulous … but not quite unique enough for what I was seeking. I then had a look at different types of symbols from science and from history. I looked at hieroglyphs and Greek symbols but nothing quite hit the spot.
One day, as I was surfing the web, I came across something familiar. It was familiar because I had a framed piece of cotton fabric I thought was batik on my wall with the same markings. As I read further, I found out that these markings were Adinkra symbols of the Akan culture in West Africa.
The Adinkra symbols represent sayings and record historical events. The printed fabric is used for funerals as ‘adinkra’ means ‘goodbye’. This method of fabric ‘language’ is one of several traditional cloths produced by the Asante in the region – another being the royal Kente.
Adinkra symbols are used on anything and everything, imbuing clothes, vehicles, commercial products, pottery and even buildings with added significance. As I read more about the symbology and the meanings behind the symbols, I realised that the subtlety and secretive communication really appealed to me and I knew I had found the tattoo language I had been seeking. Now to find the right symbol for me…
Each Adinkra symbol has a unique name and meaning derived either from a proverb, a historical event, human attitude, animal behavior, plant life, forms and shapes of inanimate and man-made objects. The meanings of the motifs cover just about every aspect of life and living.
The most popular motif is called ‘Gye Naame’ which literally translates to ‘except God’. To the Akan, it means “I fear no one, except God” and exemplifies the belief in one all powerful, all seeing and all knowing God. The symbol is beautiful in its simplicity, something true of most of the Adinkra symbols. The Gye Nyaame Adinkra symbol is the one I chose in the end, I will have it inked just over my left shoulder blade because it reminds me of the old blessing: ‘May God be on your shoulder’.