A symbol is usually a sign, a shape, or an object which may represent a person or an authority, and express an idea, value, or quality. In Ghana, symbols are used in many ways. They are sometimes used to identify ethnic groups, clans, families, authority, ideas, and values of the people. We have some symbols that identify us as a nation.
National Symbols of Ghana:
Ghana is made up of ten regions. The people in these regions obey the same laws and have one government. We are all one people in one country, and our country is identified by the National Flag and the Ghana Coat of Arms.
Let us consider each one of these national symbols.
(a) The National Flag
The National Flag distinguishes Ghana from all other nations. It is made up of three main colors: red, yellow, and green with a Black Star in the middle. Each color has its own significance. The red signifies those Ghanaians who fought and shed their blood to gain independence for us. The yellow stand for the mineral wealth of Ghana, e.g., gold, diamond, manganese, and bauxite. The green represents the agricultural wealth of Ghana, e.g., cocoa, timber, kola, shea-butter, and coffee. The Black Star stands for the hope of Africa.
The flag is the pride of the nation and we must respect it. That is why at school we sing the national anthem and salute the national flag. This is also done at all state functions.
Some societies and clubs have their own flags and banners. The members show their pride in their flags by hoisting them at their offices. They also display them on important occasions.
(b) The Ghana Coat of Arms
The Ghana Coat of Arms is an emblem or a badge of the nation.
On the Coat of Arms, there are two eagles carrying a shield. The eagle is described as the “King of Birds” because it is strong and powerful. This signifies that our independence is in safe hands.
The shield is divided into four sections. In the top left section there are a sword and a staff which signify traditional power and authority. In the top right there are a fort and the waves of the sea. These indicate the central government which was first set up by the British. In the bottom sections are a cocoa tree on the left and a mine shaft on the right. These stand for Ghana's agricultural and mineral wealth respectively. In the middle of the shield is a lion which reminds us of British rule. This shows that we still have connections with the British government. It is shown by Ghana's membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The black star is on top of the shield.
Under the shield are the words “Freedom and Justice.” The words indicate that Ghanaians are a free and independent people. We make our own laws and obey them. There is freedom of speech, of worship, and of association.
(c) Symbols in Cloths
The main symbols that we find in our traditional cloths are mainly known as “Adinkra” symbols.
According to history, Adinkra was the name of a famous chief in Gyaman, a town in Cote d'Ivoire. This chief offended the Asantehene, Bonsu Panyin, by copying the Golden Stool. Adinkra was, therefore, attacked in a war and killed. Adinkra means farewell or goodbye; hence the use of the special cloth on funeral occasions to say good-bye to the departed.
In printing Adinkra cloths, Adinkra dye is used in stamping the symbols or the designs on the cloth. The dye is prepared from the bark of the “Badie” tree.
The designs are normally cut on pieces of calabash with pieces of wood attached as handles. The pieces of calabash are dipped into the dye and stamped onto the cloth.
There are various symbols for Adinkra cloths and each symbol has its own meaning. The following are some examples:
1. “Osrane mfiti preko ntware man.” (It takes the moon sometime to go round the nation.)
2. “Adinkra hene” (Adinkra King). Chief of all the Adinkra designs. It forms the basis of Adinkra printing.
3. “Nkonsonkonson.” The living have links with the dead. It is a symbol of human relations.
4. “Sankofa.” (It is not a taboo to return and fetch what you forget.) You can always correct your mistakes.
5. “Owuo Atwedie, Baako mfo.” (All men shall climb the ladder of death.)
6. “Akofena kunini ko a, wobo afena hye no safohene.” (A great warrior is always honored with a state sword.) Reward for bravery.
7. “Nya akoma.” (Have patience.) Symbol of patience and endurance.
8. “Ese ne tekrema.” (The teeth and the tongue.) Symbol of Unity.
An examination of the meanings of the “Adinkra” symbols shows that they are proverbs. They tell us what the Akan think about life, people, things, etc.
(d) Symbols on Carvings
There are many carvings with symbols on them. Such symbols may represent the authority or power of the nation, a chief, a family, a clan or an individual. The staff of the linguist is one common example. It is usually carved from wood and has a symbol on top of it. The linguist staffs of chiefs, families, and clans are coated with silver or gold.
The carvings on top of the staffs are symbols depicting historical events, qualities, values in wise sayings, and proverbs. For example, if the top is made up of a hand holding an egg, it means “When you press it too hard it breaks, but if you do not hold it tightly enough it might fall from your hand and get broken on the ground. Therefore, rules must rule with care.”
Symbols are also carved on our stools, and they have meanings. For example, the “Obi-te-obi-so-dwa” (someone-sits-upon-another-stool) is carved in such a way that one stool stands on top of another. It indicates that in every society there is an order of seniority. So authority must be respected.
Some stools have the shapes of such animals as the elephant, the leopard, the lion in their middle parts. These signify the greatness and bravery of chiefs. Find out more about such symbols on stools.
(e) Examples of Symbols from Some Communities
In Ghana, when a chief appears in state at a national festival or a durbar, it is customary for all the regalia to be displayed.
Stools and Skins of certain animals are the most important of the chief's regalia. Stools are found among the Akans, the Ewes, the Ga-Adangmes and other ethnic groups in the southern part of Ghana. Skins are usually used in the Northern and Upper Regions.
The Chiefs of the Northern and Upper Regions use the skins of wild animals such as the lion, the tiger, the leopard, etc., as symbols to signify their authority.
Historically Ghana is made up of a number of traditional states. Each of them has its own emblem that identifies it. The following are emblems of some states:
i. The Akwamu State
The Akwamu state emblem is a stool on which is a lion with fire coming out of its mouth.
ii. The Effutu State
The Effutu state emblem is a stool with a sword and a deer. According to tradition, the founder of the state, who naturally became the first king of the people, had a war god called “Penkye Otoo.” This god helped the people in many ways. Every year, the people made a human sacrifice to the god. As time passed, this human sacrifice was stopped. Instead of human sacrifice, the tiger was chosen. The tiger was later found to be the worst substitute because many lives were lost in obtaining it alive. Finally, the deer was selected with the consent of the god. This is why the Effutu people celebrate the “Deer-Hunt Festival.”
iii. Yilo Krobo State
The emblem of the Yilo Krobo is a stool on a crocodile. This came about when Kroboland was attacked and defeated by a powerful Asante army. All the ethnic groups in Kroboland sent two messengers to Asante to make peace with them. The Asante asked the Krobo to pay war fees before an agreement for peace could be signed. A rich man among the Krobos, by name Padi Keteku, agreed to pay the money if only his people would make him their ruler. They were also to consider him as a crocodile whose call they should attend to promptly. When the Asantehene learnt that Padi Keteku was his grandon, he sent a stool to him and asked him to rule the land in his name. This is how the stool and the crocodile became the state emblem.