Patrique deGraft-Yankson, University of Education Winneba, Ghana

A Gallery of Ghanian symbols and icons as a research project

Documentation of traditional images embedded in cultural identity

Traditional symbols and images are essential ingredients of visual culture through which indigenous Ghanaians, express their philosophies, beliefs and values. In several instances, many Ghanaian traditional images and symbols are considered iconic in the sense of their ability to accurately represent revered traditional systems, and elicit immediate responses and reactions out of awe.


Though the expression and practice of culture through images and symbols continue to form an integral part of the Ghanaian cultural identity, formal education and scholarly efforts are generally defocused towards their projection within the mainstream educational considerations. Consequently, many images and symbols of sociocultural relevance embedded in traditional systems across the country (besides a few known Adinkra symbols) remain unsung. Realistically speaking, the obliteration of most of these icons from the Ghanaian visual cultural milieu is perceivable in just some few generations away. 


The irony, however, is that, whereas this disinterestedness and ignorance of many Ghanaian youths in traditional symbols and icons keep growing, the few traditional Ghanaian symbols and icons (particularly the Adinkra symbols of the Akan people of Ghana) which found their way in some academic considerations are gaining fast recognition even beyond the borders of Ghana. This in my opinion, sets the grounds for a conscious scholarly effort towards making traditional symbols and icons objects of educational relevance in the country’s formal school system. 


This project is therefore conceived with a profound curatorial interventional intent towards some of the important traditional images/symbols within indigenous Ghanaian communities. As it has been observed, the targeted images/symbols have over the years served as key determinants of sociocultural and religious practices and identities of the people



The project will involve a purposeful and meaningful ingathering of indigenous images and symbols from original sources. This will be done in close collaboration with indigenes who have been the custodians of these symbols and have held on to their reverence and relevance in traditions and belief systems over the years.


The images/symbols will be subjected to extensional interpretations from both semantic and semiotic perspectives, through the lenses of their historical, sociocultural, aesthetical, religious, mythological representation, with an overall goal of bringing out their educational relevance.


Even though a development and construction period of about one or two years is anticipated for this project, it will also have terminating points at relevant levels, through different modes of dissemination, such as exhibitions and seminars until it finally ends in a publication (possibly a website and or a book).


Importance of the project

Nana Sir Ofori Atta, K.B.E., one of the most outstanding Kings of the Akyem people of Ghana, who lived between 1881 and 1943 was quoted as saying:

I regard it as a great pity for any country which boasts of civilization to have no real foundation in its own tradition or to rely upon no traditional background. The people of such a country become, so to speak, ‘characterless’.

In an era where extreme modernistic and intense acculturative tendencies, especially among the youth, are persistently pushing the Ghanaian traditional cultural identity into utmost uncertainties, I perceive the realities of Nana Sir Ofori Atta’s assertion clearly in sight.


Many of the young people in the country have no orientation on traditional systems, and are therefore oblivious of the dignity and honor embedded in the historical traditions and artifacts of their people. As this situation persists, the people risk relinquishing the fundamental principles of their polity, and thereby lose their identity and nationality.


Projects of this nature, therefore have the tendency of harmonizing the tenets of ‘modern’ education with rich traditional resources that can bring the past into proper perspective. The rising generation needs to direct some attention to the past which shaped their today, and which needs to be nurtured into pathways which direct essential transformations for a better future.