Often people ask me 'what's that symbol?' referring to the logo of the Norfolk Black History Month. I often say that's Sankofa expecting everyone to know. Of course they have no idea what i am talking about so we quickly move to the next question which usually is 'what did you say?'
So what's Sankofa?
Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol used by the Akan People of Ghana (and by the Norfolk Black History Month logo). Adinkra symbols are graphic representations of popular maxims or philosophical concepts. Originally they were used to decorate textiles, but they can now also be found on pottery and woodcarvings and in contemporary architectural design.
The Sankofa symbol depicts a mythical bird which holds an egg symbolising the future in its beak. The bird moves forwards while looking backwards to the past. The symbol is expressed in the Akan language as Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki.
Literally translated, this phrase means
It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot. However, modern translations usually render it as
One must return to the past in order to move forward. In either case, the message of the symbol is that we must learn from the past in order to build a better future.
Celebrating traditions and visual art and image is part of the celebration of Black History and culture. African visual art is often characterised by by single forms that do not only refers to human or animal proportions of scale, but to its psychology both in language, expression, meaning and symbolism communicating complex messages in multiple dimensions responding to the faculty of sight, sound but also imagination, emotion and motivation and religious experience. The Sankofa symbol is a good example of this highly developed art expressed in emotional visual language containing multiple meaning and messages in a single symbol or Hierography.