In Adinkra, the phrase “Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene” is represented by a symbol called “Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene,” and it refers to the idea that leadership is achieved through service. The image depicts a bird with its head turned in the opposite direction as it picks at its feathers in order to provide food for its young. The leader who places the requirements of their followers ahead of their own requirements is represented by the bird. The phrase “Nea ope se obedi hene daakye no, firi ase sue som ansa,” upon which the symbol is based, can be translated as “He who wants to be king in the future must first learn to serve.” The symbol was created based on this expression. People who see the symbol are reminded that true leadership involves being of service to others.
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Adinkra main description
The Adinkra symbols come from West Africa, specifically a region that is modern-day Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The symbols belonged to the Asante (or Ashanti) peoples, who would print them on cloth, as well as pottery and metalwork. The Asante people resisted British colonial rule when it arrived in West Africa. It may be for this reason that much cultural tradition and symbolism survives to this day.
The word ‘adinkra’ means ‘farewell’ or ‘goodbye’ in the Twi language, spoken by the Asante people. For this reason, Adinkra cloth was worn often on special occasions, particularly funerals.
The Adinkra symbols are closely tied to the history, beliefs and traditions of the Asante people. Each symbol represents a small number of simple concepts, meaning that Adinkra cloth would traditionally be printed using bespoke patterns, telling a story about the wearer that could be read by those knowledgeable enough to understand the underlying symbolism.
The Adinkra symbols, and their meanings, have survived to the present day. Cloth displaying Adinkra symbols is now mass-produced in bright colors, using modern techniques and is very popular both in Africa and the wider world. This is not to say that the traditional weaving and printing methods have died out. It is still possible to find Adinkra cloth that has been made by hand, printed using natural inks and traditional techniques.