How to dress like the Asante people of Ghana (Adinkra)

My sister, Elisa, has one of the coolest jobs in the world. She’s an art teacher. In the days when I was languishing at my desk job, I dreamed of being in her shoes – inspiring children, encouraging creativity, playing with paint, and being called “Ms. Foppiano.” (That’s my maiden name. I really like it, although I don’t miss spelling it for people: “F as in Frank, O, double P as in Paul, I, A, N as in Nancy, O.” What a drag.)

Today, I simply dream of Elisa taking over as Ava’s personal finger paint instructor. Oh, the fun they would have.

Elisa recently did a Ghanaian art project with her students.

Adinkra, or pattern stamping, is traditional with the Asante people of Ghana. They stamp patterns on cloth with a calabash shell and then wear the special cloth for different occasions.

  • If the cloth is black or red, the adinkra is worn at funerals and big departures.
  • If the cloth is brightly colored, the adinkra can be worn any time, but most commonly on Sunday and special occasions.

There are several Adinkra symbols, but the circle symbol they chose for art class means “Greatness.” (Here is more info on the symbols and their meanings)

How the traditional stamps are made:

They make the stamps from the calabash shell – a type of gourd or hard shelled fruit. They boil the bark of a tree with iron slag to make a dark dye. The stamps are then dipped into the dye to print the symbols. The dye dries to a glossy black finish. Liverpool Museums

Here’s an up close of some of the student’s renditions:


Sure beats what I wear for special occasions.

Photos: Elisa Waller and Erik Cleves Kristensen (of the Ghanaians wearing the robes)


  1. Christine says

    I hear you on the last name thing- my mom’s last name is Canavari (she kept her maiden name): “c-a-n as in nancy-a-v as in victor-a-r-i.” And then people always say, “oh, Canterbury?”

    • Sasha Martin says

      Oh my, yes… it does get old after a while. Although I sometimes miss the romantic sound of Foppiano, Martin was refreshing in its simplicity. Canavari is beautiful, though. As an aside, I find it fascinating that I used such boring names to help clarify the spelling of my name. Frank, Paul, Nancy… and so dated, too! I’m not sure what that’s about… but at least I’m not the only one. 🙂

      • Jessica Bennett says

        I sometimes I have trouble understanding the various accents of people when I call a customer service department and they give me a confirmation number. They’ll say something like B/P/V as in __________ and I won’t understand the word, so I won’t know if it’s a B or a P or a V.

        By the way, I have a fairly common last name (Bennett), and 70% of the time, people pronounce it wrong (they put the emphasis on the second syllable), which I find so strange.

        And also by the way, it’s great that so much creativity runs in your family!

  2. Collette Lemons says

    I am always asked to spell my last name…. It still amazes me, lol.

    • Collette Lemons says

      That said, it would be fun to pattern some material to make things.

  3. elisa waller says

    Ok so I have an idea..since we are talking so much about “names” make a print of your name and print it on a
    fabric..then wear it as a wrap around your bathing suit to the beach…,for goodness sake……that would be total “Greatness”…thank you for sharing…it was a fun project to create with my students…..and Sasha…you are GREAT!

  4. Lovely post Sasha, thank you! Such great colours – the kids look like they’re having a blast! Beautiful fabrics…

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you Celia – I was telling my sister it would be fun to make placemats with these patterns.

  5. Rike says

    Thanks for the art – both photos and info! Here is something I just found in the news:
    ” The previous year, it was South Africans who got the award for thinking most of mom. But Ghanaians moved up to beat South Africans by 12 percent and take the No. 1 position, according to the survey, which found that the average amount of calls made by Ghanaians is 98 percent higher than it is on all other days in the year. According to Mansah Prah, a feminist social scientist at the University of Cape Coast whose research focuses on gender and sexuality, Ghanaians are definitely mom’s boys and girls. “It is because of the fact that many receive more love and care from their mothers than their fathers,” says Professor Mansah Prah. “There are many female-headed households in Ghana and many women probably do not live with their partners on a permanent basis.
    Ghanaian culture values mothers and motherhood, but women are still defined through their reproductive roles,” she adds. “It’s better to be a mother than to be unmarried, because being childless here is a very difficult situation for many women.””
    Isn’t it a wonderful coincidence that their menu is coming up on Mother’s Day?

    • Sasha Martin says

      Rike, that is fascinating. I love that the calls are 98% higher on Mother’s Day… I wonder what the stat is for other countries…like here in the US.

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