May 21, 2012

Adinkra Symbols in Jamaica

Geoffrey Philp, circa 1962

I grew up in Jamaica surrounded by Adinkra symbols. Notice the "grill work" on the gate. In fact, I think every Jamaican house has some kind of Adinkra symbol woven into the gate or over the window.

A window in the main house of Prospect Plantation near Ocho Rios,

A "Grill" in Negril.

It wasn't until I began working with several artists here in Miami that I realized what some of them meant. I suspect that many people in Jamaica pass by these symbols on their windows, gates, and security bars every day without realizing their significance.

As I was writing Marcus and the Amazons and working with the illustrator, Patrick Pollack, we decided to use Adinkra symbols throughout the book to highlight important traits in the characters.

For example, the main character, Marcus, named after Marcus Garvey--a holy warrior, has the symbol, NYAME YE OHENE: "God is King," on the front of his tunic.

One of these days, I would like to do a reading tour of all the Adinkra symbols on historic sites and houses in Jamaica to see if people knew what their gates and windows were saying. Or did they just think it was a pretty design?

These lead me to ask

On the older houses, were the ancestors leaving us messages?
If they were leaving us messages, can we still read them?
Which symbols survived and why were they so popular?

Image Source:


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Unknown said...

I think most of us just like one design or another without realizing that they had special meanings. I wonder if the grill workers knew that they were more than mere designs. It would be fascinating to learn more about this.

Andrew Blackman said...

Nice article! I'll pay more attention to the gates and security bars here in Barbados now

Geoffrey Philp said...

@Andrew, let me know if you find anything interesting.

@Hazel, we're sleepwalking through so much of our history.

Radical Selfie said...

I'm so glad a friend shared this post with me. Thank you for pointing this out. I've painted a few Adinkra symbols on the walls of my home as reminders of messages I want to share with myself and my daughters often. I'd like to believe that the use of the symbols on Jamaican grills were perhaps in origin, messages for us to share and to remember.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks for the comment, Execumama. I think they may have been... but too many careless Ethiopians...