USI guiding principles

USI guiding principles

The USI Partnership undertook a process of evaluating the project’s objectives to determine the overarching values and the ethos behind the work that we do. The following Adinkra* symbols were chosen by the partnership to symbolise our commitment to the teaching and learning of subject of transatlantic enslavement.


*Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan people of Ghana and the Gyaman people of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. The symbols represent concepts or general truths or astute observations. Whilst the symbols have a decorative function, they also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment. There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with African proverbs. According to Anthony Appiah, ‘they were one of the … for supporting the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief."



Symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation.
From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation: "Independence comes with its responsibilities."


MATE MASIE: "What I hear, I keep"

Symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence.
The implied meaning of the phrase "mate masie" is "I understand".
Understanding means wisdom and knowledge, but it also represents the prudence of taking into consideration what another person has said.


NEA ONNIM NO SUA A, OHU: "He who does not know can know from learning"

Symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge


NKONSONKONSON: "chain link" symbol of unity and human relations

A reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength


NKYIMU: the crossed divisions made on adinkra cloth before stamping

Symbol of skillfulness, precision.
Before adinkra cloth is stamped with the symbols, the artisan blocks off the cloth with lines in a rectangular grid using a broad-tooth comb. This preparation is symbolic of the exacting technique which results in the highest quality product.


NKYINKYIM: "twisting"

Symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility


NSAA: a type of hand-woven fabric

Symbol of excellence, genuineness, authenticity.
According to "The Adinkra Dictionary" by W. Bruce Willis, the nsaa symbols reflects a saying: "nea onnim nsaa oto n'ago", which he translates as "He who does not know authentic Nsaa will buy the fakes." The quality of Nsaa has come to represent quality of workmanship in general.


PEMPAMSIE: "sew in readiness"

Symbol of readiness, steadfastness, hardiness.
According to the The Adinkra Dictionary, the design of this symbol resembles the links of a chain, and implies strength through unity as well as the importance of being prepared.


SANKOFA: "return and get it"

Symbol of importance of learning from the past


WO NSA DA MU A: "If your hands are in the dish"

Symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism
From the aphorism, "Wo nsa da mu a, wonni nnya wo" -- "If your hands are in the dish, people do not eat everything and leave you nothing."


HWE MU DUA: "measuring stick"

Symbol of examination and quality control.
This symbol stresses the need to strive for the best quality, whether in production of goods or in human endeavors.


ANANSE NTONTAN: "spider's web"

Symbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life
Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African folktales.


BESE SAKA: "sack of cola nuts"

Symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity.

The cola nut played an important role in the economic life of Ghana. A widely-used cash crop, it is closely associated with affluence and abundance. This symbol also represents the role of agriculture and trade in bringing peoples together.


BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO: "Help me and let me help you"

Symbol of cooperation and interdependence


AKOMA NTOSO: "linked hearts"

Symbol of understanding and agreement

Taking into account the collaborative meaning behind each symbol, USI intends to display and encourage:


  • Initiation; dynamism and versatility 
  • skilfulness and precision 
  • readiness; steadiness, courage and boldness 
  • unity in how we related to each other and our stakeholders; also encouraging unity with communities 
  • quality of workmanship as a symbol of excellence genuineness/authenticity


For futher reading and more Adinkra symbols please visit: www.adinkra.org