Adinkra Symbols Explained

Adinkra Symbols at African Burial Ground
Adinkra Symbols at African Burial Ground


As one walks along the African Burial Ground National Monument, seven mounds made from grass encompass the side of the memorial where a granite prism structure stands, firm and grounded, the sound of rushing water can be heard. The granite headstone is the rendering of a ship, ships that carried thousands of Africans through the Middle Passage into North America.

Approaching the monument, symbols of a writing system decorate the interior of the Memorial, each representing different African cultures and peoples, whose lives changed forever once docked in North America. On the stern of the ship is a carved Nyame Biribi Wo Soro symbol, representing the reliance on God for inspiration.1 As the ship moves through the strong waters of the sea, crowded with thousands of enslaved Africans, the symbol lies on the stern of the ship as if God has inspired the push in people, offering hope and a positive mind for the future.

On each side of the ship is a Nsibidi and Sankofa symbol. The Sankofa symbolizes the ability to learn from the past. The Nsibidi symbol represents progress and unity which is carved onto the side of the ship to remind us of the journey of the enslaved in the African Diaspora and how it was able to progress into a cultural diffusion that has truly affected the history of the world.

The Circle of Diaspora, which is represented by the open ring in the memorial, has multiple symbols from various backgrounds that can be seen. Each designs represent symbols in humanity. Walk through the monument and entering into the open ring, the symbols from left to right resemble the progression of the physical meanings to spiritual meanings as the granite floor gradually lowers itself to the cemetery underneath the memorial. The reason for the placement of each symbol on the memorial for the granite memorial represents a vessel. The memorial is open on the inside, representing a chamber of individual space, giving the visitors the opportunity for internalized reflection. As a memorial, the architects goal is to show that the granite block that you first see as you pass by Broadway is much more than a solid large piece of rock, but a symbol of the thousands of different stories and lives that have been affected by the Middle Passage.


Learn the meanings of the Adinkra Symbols:

LEGBA - Guardian of the Crossroads

GYE NYAME - Supremacy of God

NKISI SARABANDA - Signature of the Spirit

NSOROMMA - Guardianship

ASASE YE DURU - Divinity of Mother Earth

HYE WON HYE - Imperishability and Endurance

ANKH - Egyptian Symbol of Life

MEDICINE WHEEL - Native American Circle of Life

LATIN CROSS - Christian Faith

TANIT - Islamic Faith

MANMAN BRIGITTE - Female Cemetery Guardians

YOWA - Continuity of Human Life

BARON - Male Cemetery Guardian

MATE MASIE - Wisdom and Prudence

AKOMA NTOSO - Understanding


DWENNIMMEN - Humility and Strength

DENKYEM - Adaptability

AKOMA - Endurance, Understanding

NSIBIDI SYMBOL - Love and Unity (Progress and Journey)

SANKOFA - Learn From the Past

NYAME BIRIBI WO SORO- God is in the Heavens

Last updated: June 30, 2021

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African Burial Ground NM
C/O Federal Hall National Memorial
26 Wall St

New York, NY 10005


212 238-4367

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