The Symbols and Me


Christianity is a huge part of my life. My faith, my religion are huge factors in my identity. There was this class last quarter. The professor was a jokester very laid back, short, White, wore glasses EVERYBODY loved him; then there’s me the only one not understanding his humor. Maybe it was due to me being the only person of color in the class and I wasn’t being very open minded, fair. Whatever the case, this class touched heavily on race, relationships and self-discovery. Then one day he decided to create this discussion on religion. He brought to my attention a thought I hadn’t dwelled much on, he said “Did you really have a choice in picking your religion? Or was it like your name, you just dealt with it, since it was already decided for you?” this question shook me. I decided to answer with “Well I feel that I’m old enough to claim my faith as my own.” which he then countered with “That too could be debated since your family has bred you toward that particular faith.” and here I am stumped again, my classmates proceeding to say “oohhhh” as if I got owned. To soon realize, maybe my Professor from last quarter was correct, however in that moment I knew for fact that my faith was my own choosing.

The gut feeling of needing to defend my religion isn’t something you can breed, that’s a choice. A choice I felt very satisfied in at that moment. Just like my Father when deciding to ink his body in a symbol that was of his choice. Mind you there are many many many many Adinkra symbols yet my father chose this one “Gye Nyame” translation “Except For God”. The way he tells me and how I’ve heard others say before is “Supremacy of God” meaning God above everything, God and Only God, Power of God; I could go on and on. The point however, is I really appreciated my Father for tying into his Ghanaian roots and religion to pick something so meaningful. This symbol was not only chosen for this blog, but I’ve decided to proceed in attributing this as a tattoo to my body as well. From gaining confidence in a class I was in last quarter about my faith, to feeling closer to my Ghanaian roots, to matching my Father with this symbol; the choice was obvious.

My favorite part about these symbols are the legend of how their created. A war ensued between the countries of Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The Gyaaman people (Ivory Coast people) were at fault for trying to copy the sacred “Golden Stool” symbol of the Asante people (Ghana people) (Tetteh, 1). Nana Adinkra was the name of the king who ruled over the Gyaaman, he was killed for his wrong and the Asante took over his kingdom (Tetteh, 1). The symbols name originated from the king of Gyaaman; Nana Adinkra. The Asante painted the traditional Gyaaman symbols onto cloth around the 19th century ((Tetteh, 1). These symbols are truly a way to feel close to my Ghanaian ancestors. We’re able to learn and understand the thoughts of the Akan people through their visuals of these symbols. Though the inspiration is not clear, I believe it was truly another form of communication amongst the Akan. These symbols represent attitudes, animals, behavior, historical events, etc (Y, 1). Being half Ghanaian I can’t help but feel a bit of pride in my ancestors for being the creators of such intricate art.

Adinkra has been traced back to the year 1817 (Y, 1). During this time slavery was a huge predicament partnered with the continuous devaluing of African Americans. Slavery was a tragedy that impacted several countries in Africa. The transatlantic slave trade hit West Africa pretty hard in terms of kidnapping innocent people, and providing them with a lifetime of brutal labor; slaves were treated as property and handled accordingly. This era consisted of a great deal of lost history for African Americans, yet these Adinkra symbols have prevailed.

Mind you the prevalence of anything from many years ago, that is tied to an African American history, is a huge blessing to me. I’ve lost so much of my own history due to slavery and the Adinkra symbols have provided a sense of hope and peace. It’s like this, although African Americans have gone through several trials and tribulations, they’re still standing—these symbols are a powerful reflection of the perseverance shown. The consistency in Adinkra symbols meaning is also gratifying. The passed down storytelling and redrawing of these images has caused a constant definition behind every symbol.

So much so that my Father was able to get an Adinkra symbol tattooed on his arm. Not just any symbol but “Gye Nyame” the meaning of God over all. And if I took anything away from this class it would be the awareness of how religious based slaves were, this was seen in 12 years a slave and provided in our class reading and discussion about the distain the slave owners would have over Christian based slave marriages. Faith was a huge driving force for slaves as it is for me, my Father and my other family members.

The Adinkra symbol is a connection. It’s my connection to always remember my ancestors whom developed these symbols, my ancestors whom were once slaves and to bring that into my present life. Educating others and not allowing my history to die is important to me, and I’m proud that the symbol “Gye Nyame” has made it this far in history and has landed permanently on my Father’s arm, in which I have hopes to do the same.


– Aliyanda Harris


Works Cited:

Gye Nyame. Digital image. Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Tetteh, Valentina A., comp. ADINKRA – Cultural Symbols of the Asante People Origin (n.d.): 1-26. Stlawu. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Y, Dr. “Adinkra Symbols and the Rich Akan Culture.” African Heritage. WordPress, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.



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