Gourd Stamps - Adinkra

Adinkra symbols are found throughout Ghana and the Ivory Coast , beautiful West African countries on the Atlantic Ocean.  These Asante (Ashanti) tribe symbols can be found everywhere on cloth and walls, in pottery and logos.  

Adinkra cotton cloth is a stamped fabric that can be traced back to the 17th century.  The word "adinkra" means goodbye because originally these clothes adorned with adinkra symbols were only worn during ceremonies to honor the dead.  The symbols worn on the mourner's clothing expressed the qualities attributed to the deceased.  Today in Ghana Adinkra cloth is widely worn at social occasions.  In modern times, they are used worldwide for every-day wear, bridal, formal and special occasions. 

Adinkra artists divide the fabric into squares and then create patterns and repetitive designs using the inked stamps.   Symbolic motifs which represent proverbs are carved from a gourd (calabash: dried gourd), and are dipped into a black dye made from the bark of the badie tree.  

One edge of the loaded curved stamp is placed onto the cloth, it is rocked across to the other edge, then it is lifted and dipped into the colorant once again to repeat the procedure.  Adinkra cloth from Ghana is an example of direct printing.  Dye is applied directly to the cloth using the gourd stamp.

Each stamp is a one-of-a-kind hand crafted piece of art.  While the stamps are beautiful, they also are functional on several levels.   They are used as stamps to transfer dyes to fabric, each design also has a specific meaning.  

Master carvers create the stamps.  A gourd is cut into pieces.   After the design has been decided upon, the gourd pieces are then carved to allow for raised areas that will print as a positive.   Negative areas are cut away and pieces of raffia palm are hammered into the back of the stamp with a stone, then a cloth is tied over the ends to make a handle.

To print the fabric, it is stretched taut over a level, horizontal wooden board that is covered with a padding of burlap or other osft materials. The dried gourd stamp is dipped into the dye then pressed onto the fabric. Sometimes a wooden comb is used to draw borders and lines around areas.  Repeating a pattern is optional.  Different stamps are often used on the same fabric. 

After printing, the fabric is allowed to dry in the sun. There are two types of Adinkra cloth: plain and embroidery (nwomu), where strips of fabric are attached by hand stitching, or by embroidery with bright, primary colors. 

The Ashante people living in the modern African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, still stamp Adinkra symbols on cloth.

Organizations in the USA and elsewhere provide workshops to teach the technique and Adinkra meanings.  (http://www.ishangi.org/adinkra_workshop)

Links are provided below to the sources used for this article.






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