The ‘Bi Nka Bi’ Adinkra Symbol of Ghana – An Embodiment of Peace


The early Asante forebears of Ghana intelligently crafted many symbols that philosophically instructed society members on the moral code of living. This assisted greatly in promoting social cohesion and peaceful relationship amongst themselves. A critical analysis of the symbols reveals the ingenuity of the Asante forebears. Crafted since the 1600s, many of these symbols have symbolic interpretations which when pondered over give insightful advice that enriches the moral currency of those who abide by them. One of such important Ghanaian symbols is the ‘Bi-Nka-Bi’.

The pictorial representation of the symbol shows several bulging curves that symbolically represent different persons in the society. In a philosophically crafted image, these bulging curves unite into one complete shape, signifying unity or oneness. Thus, the symbol signifies peace among one another. Others say that the symbol is an abstracted representation of two fishes biting each other’s tail, warning against all forms of strife and disputes.

This symbol literally means ‘Bite not one another’. Biting, as used in this context, means rivalry, conflicts or misunderstanding. The symbol admonishes society members not to allow any anti-peace issue to disrupt the peace that exists between them. It advocates amicable settlement of all forms of misunderstanding that could sow the seed of rivalry and conflict. In a typical Asante setting, disputes between families are expected to be discussed and remedied immediately at the family level by the family head ‘Abusuapanyin’. S/he is mandated by traditional by-law with the authority to listen to the grievances of each party that resulted in the dispute, advises and amicably settle the misunderstanding before it could degenerate and escalate into a bigger conflict. Stubborn parties who do not listen to the family head are sent to the overlord of the town who is the chief and his cabinet of elders. He is the final say in all matters and his verdict is viewed as conclusive of all kinds of societal conflict. In the same light, difficult conflicts that ensue between chiefs of neighboring towns and villages are sent to the paramount chief to settle it. The fulcrum of all these peace settling arrangements in the society was for every society member to smoke the peace pipe all the time.

As a form of regular reminder of this important social order in the Ghanaian society, the ‘Bi-Nka-Bi’ symbol is often inscribed, modeled and painted on various buildings, pottery wares, sandals and other items used in the society. Also, the symbol is used as the principal design in the production of many jewellery items for personal adornment. It is fitting that the commemoration of the 62nd independence day of Ghana has adopted the symbol in denoting the key message of peace among all ethnic societies in the country. The writer recommends the use of the symbol by peace foundations and institutions in depicting the imagery of peace and in all forms of education on peace carried out globally.

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