Ashanti Adinkra Cloth
BY Carol Ventura | March 31, 2011
Collaboration, decoration, and folk fabric
Ghana is home to several large ethnic groups, including the Ashanti, who live in and around the city of Kumasi. Many Ashanti villages specialize in craft production, with men performing most of the tasks. Techniques are usually passed down from father or uncle to sons and nephews. Each piece is usually a group effort rather than the work of a single artist. A very special village, Ntonso, northeast of Kumasi, is home to both printed adinkra cloth and the Boakye family, who work very hard to keep the tradition alive.
Although hand-woven cotton was utilized in the past, today pieces of machine-woven fabric are joined together by hand or with a sewing machine and then hand-printed to produce large adinkra cloths that are stylishly wrapped around the bodies of women and men attending funerals and other special events.
Dark Adinkra aduro pigment is made in Ntonso by soaking, pulverizing, and then boiling the inner bark and roots of the Badie tree (Adansonia digitata) in water over a wood fire. Once the dark color has been released, the mixture is strained, and then boiled for several more hours until it thickens.
In preparation for stamping, cotton material that has been sewn together into a large square or rectangle is folded lengthwise, with one edge exposed. A thin layer of foam rubber is laid over a few boards, then the top and bottom of the strip are nailed in place, then parallel and perpendicular lines (printed with a comb dipped into adinkra duro) divide the cloth into sections. After choosing several appropriate symbols from a chart, the corresponding stamps are selected.
The placement of the motifs is first determined by stamping in the air just over the fabric, then after the spacing has been figured out, the stamp is dipped into the colorant, excess is shaken off, then one edge is placed on down and rocked across the surface to the other edge. The same stamp is then re-dipped into the colorant and printed, over an over until the section has been filled.
After printing the first part of the fabric, the nails are removed, the printed section is moved over and another section is revealed. The new top and bottom edges are tacked to the boards and then printing continues, while the finished part rests face up on the ground to dry.
Adinkra aduro is not colorfast, so after being washed, it is refreshed with another dye bath and then reprinted.
Not everyone can afford to buy traditionally prepared adinkra, so several production techniques have developed to meet the demand for less expensive adinkra. Pricier adinkra is still printed with hand-carved calabash stamps and adinkra aduro onto fine cloth. More affordable adinkra is screen-printed onto less expensive fabric with water-based ink. Both printing techniques feature old and new adinkra symbols that represent a variety of proverbs, beliefs, and philosophies. Another trend is to embroider together several pieces of commercially printed cloth into large adinkra-styled cloths.
Adinkra symbols are very popular in Ghana, not only do they appear on cloths, but they are also incorporated into jewelry, advertisements, and even architectural decoration. My favorite place to see them, though, is on the adinkra that I purchased – the black one being printed in the photos here and the white one on my web page at http://iweb.tntech.edu/cventura/Adinkra.htm.
Dr. Carol Ventura is the art historian at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Her interest in art, crafts, and history has led her to find and document craftspeople around the world. Her home page at http://iweb.tntech.edu/cventura/ includes links to wood, fiber, glass, clay, and metal crafts and their makers.