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Sankofa: What is Sankofa and why should you care

Among the continents of the world, Africa stands out as one deeply rooted and rich in cultural heritage, beliefs and languages.

The Sankofa symbol stems from one of such languages which is the Twi language of  the Akan people of Ghana.

This article seeks to comprehensively lay out the meaning of the Sankofa symbol, the types of the symbol, the origin of the symbol and it’s accompanying uses.

 

The Meaning Of The Sankofa Symbol

The Sankofa translated from the Twi language to English means to return and get it. SAN translates to return, KO Translates to Go, FA translates to Look, seek and take.

(RELATED ARTICLE: Adinkra Symbols and Meaning)

 

Pronunciation:

 

It is also used in connection to the Asante Adinkra symbol which is depicted by a bird flying with its head facing backward, a precious egg held by its beak and its legs facing forward or a stylized heart.

 

SANKOFA BIRD

 

STYLIZED HEART

Sankofa is often expressed in the Akan language as sewo were fi nawosankofa a yenki. Which means it is not an abomination to return and take what you forgot.

In line with the Sankofa symbol and the illustrated bird depiction, the Sankofa teaches that to record successes and move forward, we have to return to our roots.

In other words, Sankofa translates to gathering good lessons learned in our past and using them to achieve future goals.

The Sankofa bird symbol also subtly illustrates the importance of family as most of the lessons that form the bedrock of a man’s life are learned at home or among a group of people that are regarded as family.

 

The Origin Of The Sankofa Symbol

The Sankofa symbol originates from the Adinkra tribe within Africa and mythically illustrates the importance of past lessons in shaping the future.

That said, the concept of the Sankofa was given life by King Adinkera who ruled over the Akan people of West Africa precisely Ghana.

As the Akan proverb states, se wo were fi nawosankofa a yenki. “it is not an abomination to go to your roots and take what you forgot”.

This teaches that whatever we have forgone, lost, been stripped of or forgotten can be revived, reclaimed, preserved and caused to prevail..

Furthermore, the Sankofa symbol serves to demonstrate the quest of the Akan people for knowledge. The quest is however built on a patient’s investigation, intelligence, and critical examination.

 

The Two Types Of Sankofa Symbol (Bird And Stylized Heart)

The Sankofa symbol is portrayed visually and symbolically using two images which are an Adinkra symbol shown as a mythical bird that has its head turned back, a valuable egg (the future) within its mouth and its legs firmly facing forward as it flies and a stylized heart.

Each of these symbols serves to show the relevance of lessons learned in the past and how these lessons are useful for future achievements and developments.  

The Akans are of the view that new learning and movement must be recorded as time goes by. As this learning and movements go on, the past must stay relevant.

 

The Uses of the Symbol

For a symbol that has such deep cultural meanings and values, it is only expected that it should be used across a variety of things.

That said, the Sankofa symbol is used as a tattoo, necklace, and various art forms. For art forms, the Sankofa heart symbol is at times introduced as a design in Akan stools and carved on iron gates.

 

Such carvings on iron gates is frequently seen in places such as Nigeria and the United States, especially New York City.

Furthermore, the National Museum that showcases African American culture and history makes use of the heart-shaped symbol in its website.

 

A Sankofa bird was also carved into a slave ship floor by James Keziah Delaney in the television show Taboo. James Keziah also has the same bird tattooed on his upper back. This, therefore, shows the widespread use of the Sankofa.

Television Show – Taboo

 

The Influence Of  Sankofa Symbol In North America And The United Kingdom.

 

The Sankofa symbol is one which remains vastly popular despite any hindrances recorded in previous years.

In North America and the United Kingdom this symbol has spread beyond bounds and is used in various organizations and objects as well as in a good deal of systems and cities such as New Orleans and Washington DC.

In Washington DC and New Orleans, the Sankofa heart and bird symbols are interchangeably used in fence designs.

That said, the symbol of the Sankofa was plainly depicted in a film named Sankofa. It was acted in 1993 and produced by Haile Gerima. Also, in North America this symbol was adopted by various Afrocentric organizations.

In Saint Louis University, Sankofa was introduced as an event to honor African American students and graduates who had honors in African American courses.

In the United Kingdom, a stage production premiered in 1999 and scripted by Margaret Busby was titled Sankofa.

The growth, impacts and use of Sankofa in the United Kingdom and in North America is fueled solely by its moral lesson of tying future achievements to past experiences.

 

On a final note, the Sankofa symbol is one which is relevant today and used as tattoos, necklace and artwork because of its impressive moral beliefs and depictions that good and bad experiences of the past shape a man’s present and future.

So how would you use the Sankofa Symbol of the Akan people of Ghana?

Leave your comments below!

References:

https://www.berea.edu/cgwc/the-power-of-sankofa/

https://www.uis.edu/africanamericanstudies/students/sankofa/

http://www.africanbookscollective.com/publishers/sankofa-educucational-publishers

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