By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Ghana; Asante peoples

Adinkra (cloth)

Cotton, pigment

W. 342.9 cm (135 in)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Gift of Alice H. Brown, 1992.87


Adinkra cloth has a long history in the Asante kingdom, where it has been made since at least the beginning of the 19th century and possibly earlier. The cloth is traditionally made of dark red or black fabric and is worn as a signal of mourning at funerals, as in the field photograph. Light colors are worn for festive occasions. Its designs are stamped onto the cloth using a piece of calabash, a type of gourd, cut to form the design and dipped into a vegetal pigment. Each one of the symbols stamped onto the cloth has a specific meaning, often referring to proverbs and historical events. Adinkra has come to be worn as formal or even as everyday attire made in a variety of colors. In recent years, the cloth has come to signal the wearer’s identity as an Asante person and as someone who prefers traditional rather than Western attire. 

Asante peoples, Ghana, funeral procession. Photo by Karen Terpstra.