Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Peter Covino


The Text(tiles) of Adinkra Symbols: West African Art, Gender, & Poetic Translations is a critical and creative dissertation that interrogates Adinkra symbols from West Africa. These symbols, rediscovered in the nineteenth century, serve as codes, communicating warnings and meanings of proverbs to recipients. Many individual Adinkra symbols are abstract ideographs of the philosophical ideas they represent. My work expands on existing scholarship and further elaborates how Adinkra symbols moved from Ghana to the United States (U.S). Specifically, I trace how these creative-pictorial-philosophical symbols evolved in use as artistic mediums of expression of African/Black tradition and identity for the migrant African/Black subject in bondage. My research incorporates expanded poetic practices and alternative readings of the symbols to bring a fuller awareness of the enduring cultural influence of Ghanaian art on African Diaspora literature, material culture, and future artistic forms. Essentially, this project rediscovers original interpretations of the Adinkra aesthetic through poetic translations of selected Adinkra symbols.

This manuscript is divided into two parts: a critical introduction and a poetry collection. The critical introduction expands on the work of scholars by arguing that Adinkra symbols, which are indigenous to the Asantes of Ghana, were brought to the United States via enslaved Akans in the eighteenth century and continue to be used by migrant African/ Black subjects in bondage to creatively express and preserve African/Black identity. The poetry collection takes the shape of oral narratives and is narrated by a Ghanaian subject, Elizabeth Yaa Bretuo Anim, who as an undocumented subject in the U.S., bears the burden and voice of her ancestors and her descendants: she speaks on behalf of the enslaved, the free, and the undocumented or exiled. The work also posits a historical link to internal migration in the United States as represented by ekphrastic responses to Jacob Lawrence’s paintings in The Great Migration (1941). This work reveals the philosophical and creative level of these transhistorical symbols and their continuing relevance in contemporary Black culture.



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