Saturday, 22 January 2011


From the 22nd December 2011 edition of the Ghanaian intellectual magazine Gye Nyame:

Abua Kofi-Iyen, a specialist in the philosophical  implications of visual forms at the University of Legon, announced yesterday  at a lecture held to promote his new book, Adinkra  Symbolism as Integrative Hermeneutic, that his research project  of twenty-nine years  into Adinkra has uncovered conclusive evidence that this symbolic system represents a visual language that integrates a broad range of symbol systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

He claimed that his research demonstrates that the symbolism conventionally attributed to Adinkra, a famous system of visual symbols developed by the Gyaman of what is now Cote d’Ivoire  and the Akan of present day Ghana, represents only a top layer of a complex network of associations to which the conventional meanings give access, but only if certain "keys of knowledge" as he called them, are available to the inquirer. He claims that  Adinkra symbolism has often been studied in isolation from its origin in an esoteric framework of knowledge which enables access to its range of meaning  because the custodians of this esoteric structure were not convinced that society was ripe for the transgressive character of the insights  the symbols make possible.

Kofi-Iyen claims that he has always been intrigued by the description of the significance of the Adinkra motifs in J.B  Danquah's The Akan Doctrine of God. Danquah describes them as representing the messages embodied by the individual soul as its own bequest as it takes leave of God to depart to earth. Danquah concludes that the motifs suggest a reflection on relationships between life before birth and life after death, between those on earth and those beyond, between time and non-time. Kofi-Iyen described himself as deeply intrigued by these pregnant comments. This led him to track down all research into Adinkra, to question as many Adinkra creators as possible, and to reflect at length upon the motifs. He says that this effort, after about eight years, at last led him to run into a particular corpus of Adinkra interpretations which differ from the conventional in that they represented a significant elaboration upon the conventionally understood significations. At times theses changes even involve an iconoclastic modification of the conventional understanding of the motifs, as if reflecting the development of a counter tradition to the conventional understanding.

He says that he traced the source of these interpretations and discovered them as occurring most frequently in an area around the Suhuma forest near Kumasi. The interpretations were the work of a group of Adinkra scholars, who, working as the heirs of  an endogenous tradition that had created the motifs in the first place, had developed them far beyond the meanings normally attributed to them. He says he won their trust after five years of dedicated effort and from them was able to gain the knowledge that constitutes the crowning glory of his work. His book describes what he learnt from them about the relationship of Adinkra symbolism to a continent wide knowledge system, which includes  such systems as the Nigerian Ifa, Afa and Oguega, the Dahomean Fa, Dogon thought and Bambara philosophies, among others. He describes Adinkra as embodying the apex of a pyramid of interpretation which integrates these and other systems, a central matrix of knowledge that enables the unity of the others to be understood.

He argues that the design motifs of Adinkra, its mathematical forms which demonstrate aspects of fractal geometry, its use of particular colour schemes, its employment of non-representational iconography, demonstrate a complex network of associations that correlates the verbal, visual and mathematical forms of a broad range of systems of knowledge in  Sub- Saharan Africa.

Response to Kofi-Iyen's research has been mixed. Some fellow scholars who have been following his work claim scepticism about his claims about a hidden tradition of Adinkra interpretation but some give credence to the logical validity of the interpretations of Adinkra in his book.The sceptics counter, however, that those interpretations do not need a story about hidden custodians of knowledge to validate them. The issue is complicated by the fact that, pressed to identify his sources, the proto-Adinkra community, as someone has described them, he claims that an inviolable condition of his learning from them was the promise not to divulge their identity. He claims, however, that they do not constitute a group different from other members of society but are simply ordinary people who have devoted themselves to a lifetime's exploration of the deeper possibilities of Adinkra that go beyond their conventional usage.

Can this story be true?
If it can be true, or cannot be, what factors make that the case?
If it can be   true, would that make its truth factual?

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