Friday, September 10, 2010

A visit to Ntonso - The Home of Adinkra

My work with the Millenium Cities Initiative has changed a bit and now involves supporting with the development of a tourism strategy for the Ashanti region. While it is not quite as well developed as the capital city of Accra, the Ashanti region is much more interesting culturally. It is the home of the Asantehene, the king of the Ashanti Empire and, because they control much of the gold and cocoa in Ghana, one of the most powerful tribal chiefs in West Africa. You can visit the Asantehene's palace, called Menhyia palace, in Kumasi.

Surrounding Kumasi are a variety of cultural sites: the Awhiaa wood-carving village, where masks, stools and other wooden carvings are made, Bonwire, where the local Kente cloth is manufactured, and many others. Right now, some tourists come to Kumasi and visit the broader Ashanti region, but it is quite underdeveloped compared to the Ghanaian coast (due to the slave fortifications).

As part of our fact finding for the work, we visited Ntonso, the home of Adinkra. The following extract from Wikipedia explains Adinkra:

"Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used on fabric, walls, in pottery, woodcarvings and logos. Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing. They also can be used to communicate evocative messages that represent parts of their life or those around them."

An example of some of the Adinkra symbols can be found here.

The village of Ntonso is the home of the Adinkra, as they started making and printing the symbols on cloth, such as the chiefs clothes or on clothes for special occasions, such as funerals, many hundreds of years ago. The stamps are traditionally carved by hand and printed using ink distilled from a special tree bark. Now, however, the Adinkra symbols are everywhere: plastic chairs, gates, and even Vodaphone in Ghana uses them in their marketing campaign.

Ntonso has a very small visitor center, which we visited one Saturday afternoon. The visitor center had a small museum (featuring what was claimed to be 200 year old Adinkra cloth for a local chief simply sitting in the open), as well as a small printing center - outside, on the grass - where we could make our own Adinkra stamps.

Here is a photo of a stamp being carved. The individual carving this one is the only person in the village of Ntonso who is allowed to carve the stamps. The trade is passed down from father to son.

A freshly dipped stamp in the cauldron of boiling ink:

A stamped Adinkra symbol. This symbol means Wisdom and was made to symbolise the plucked hair of a chief who was thought to be particularly wise:

And Kacey, trying her hand at stamping:

A rack of stamped Adinkra cloth:

All of it is very interesting - including the history of those Adinkra stamps that could not be worn by anyone but the chief, under punishment of death, a fact that was not mentioned as part of the tour, but only found out upon further questioning - but the site was not very well developed. The quality of the stamping could be better, the museum improved, as well as potential things to purchase at the end of the tour.

This is a good time to do some research - what types of things would you be interested in if you visited Ghana? What would be important in terms of infrastructure? What types of things would interest you most to purchase? To learn?


laurie said...

Wow....I would love fabric!

Tirzah said...

fabric fabric fabric.

Rachiley said...

that's really amazing and beautiful!

b-arc said...

Yes that is the Adinkra ( fare Well) fabric of my people ( Asante tribe of Ghana), this was generally a funeral cloth bidding goodbyes to the departed, the prints are also made on red and black pieces of cloth, every body wore this fabric with numerous designs but the Asante King had his own custom and unique designs which were meant for him alone.