African Symbols and some interpretations….

Young young men from Mali adorned in traditional attire

Traditional signs and symbols are dynamic human activities and they touch every domain of life for meaningful development and peaceful co-existence especially in the African society. The essence of symbols are the sharing and u nderstanding of the meaning of messages. This is only possible if there is an understanding between the sender and receiver.
Words are not the only way to transmit messages. Non-verbal signs too can be communicated in such a clear manner that there is no distortion even when the messages are passed from one person to another over the years.

This means of communication is pretty reliable to the extent that advertisers embed them in their jingles or copies to capture the interest of (potential) customers or maintain the loyalty of those who already patronize their products by the use of symbols which, through time, sometimes mentally represent what they are supposed to signify.

Let’s take a look at some of them;


Ripe Ripe kolanuts

Kolanut is one of the most common and widely recognized cultural symbols in Africa. It is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus (Cola) of trees that are native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. It is considered among some Nigerian (West Africa) tribes to be the first tree on Earth, although that cannot be substantiated.

The Kola nut is a very important aspect of the tradition in Nigeria, which holds great social significance for many ethnic groups especially in Igbo land (Eastern Nigeria). Whenever a visitor is offered a kolanut, it means he is accepted. Thus, whenever kolanut is seen among a group of people, it depicts acceptability, comradeship, peace, togetherness. So, when you’re offered the kolanut, accept it. It means you’re welcome.

The African Talking Drum:

Talking drum entertainers

This is one of Western Africa’s most common cultural symbols. The African talking drum appears in different African sub-cultures and languages such as;
Akan – Dondo
 Fante – Odondo
 Twi – Dondo
 Hausa – Kalangu
 Igbo – Ekwe
 Yoruba – Gangan or Dundun
 Songhai – Doodo
 Mandinka – Tamma
 Gurunsi – Donno
The talking drum is another prominent part of entertainment in African culture and very significant. It is one of the oldest musical instruments used by leading drummers. Only skilled drummers can make a rhythm out of it and when they do, the audience goes wild with excitement or sing along with the rhythm of the traditional drum.

The Calabash:

Calabash Utensils

The Calabash is one of the symbols of rural African life which many modern individuals have embraced with the aim of preserving culture. They come in different shapes from flattened to oblong, elongated, rounded-drop-shaped, kidney-shaped among others.

The vegetable used to make the calabash

It is a usually harvested from a tree as vegetable, then kept to dry and then scraped and moulded to the form the person desires. It is an object that was commonly used in most regions in Africa for serving and preserving meals. So whenever the calabash is seen, it means home.

The Horse tail:
Whenever you see someone in Africa hold the horse tail you will know without been told that the person belongs to royalty, is affluent or is someone very important. It is unheard of that just anybody holds the horse tail.

One traditional ruler with a horse tail

The handle is formed mostly by a piece of long, round, slim and smooth handle or metal worked over with spiraling bands of black-brown, ivory, and tan horse hair that have been hand-woven over the handle with space left for the holder to grip the handle. Even today, traditional figures are the ones who carry horse tails. So whenever you see someone holding a horestail, you think royalty or affluence.


A beautifully adorned Edo bride

Adornment remains the primary use of beads throughout the continent. As an item of beauty and craftsmanship, beads transfer their essence to the wearer. And because adornment is often linked to romance, historians say beads play a significant role in attracting members of the opposite sex. Other significance includes; display of wealth, class and status.

Beautiful African beads

Long before civilisation in the continent, beads worn by females immediately convey status: married, unmarried, engaged, uncommitted, has children, has unmarried sisters, among others. Additional colors and patterns even pinpoint the region she comes from. With these signals a man in a crowd can easily pick out females that he may approach without fear of being rejected or embarrassed.

Some partners convey additional meanings. For example, when arranged with three points of a triangle they represent Father, Mother and Child. Worn with the point down, it designates an unmarried man or woman. Two triangles joined to form a diamond signify a married woman. Two triangles joined at points to form an X indicate a married man.

Although wearing of specific beads is still practiced all over Africa, people understand the first symbol of the bead – adornment.

Africa is enriched with things that mean a lot to her people and these things they hold in high regard even till today. So, when you visit any part of the continent, seeing some of these communally acceptable practice shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.

Do you know of any other cultural symbol? Please share with us in the comment section.

As you enjoy learning about cultures all around the world, Ibiene wants you to stay safe.

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