Categories: Bill Babbitt
Tuesday afternoon proved to be quite an adventure. We drove to Ntonso which is the traditional home for Adinkra manufacture. I had learned about Adinkra before we left for Ghana and found it very interesting. Basically, a carver makes stamps out of a particular wood, and each stamp is a symbol that has a particular meaning. The Adinkra maker will make the ink, stamp the symbols on cloth and this becomes a beautiful fabric filled with all sorts of symbolism. The ride was quite a trip, we left in the afternoon following lunch and had to travel through many crowded streets very slowly. The way finally opened up as we got to the edge of the city and were able to make the trip in about an hour and a half.
Professor Eglash had visited this area on his trip last year, and we were in search of the same Adinkra maker with which he had spoken. The circumstances of the area look very difficult and I thought it just a bit scary. We arrived at the Arts and Crafts center and got a young boy to show us where the Adinkra maker was located. He hopped into the front seat of the van and off we went. I really was just a few minutes drive but it occurs to me that I would never have allowed my child to act as guide to anyone – even if they did look like University researchers. We arrived and got out of the van and were quickly guided down to him (I don’t have my notebook or I would use his name, I’m hoping it’s at the school from this morning). He was very hospitable to us because he immediately recognized Ron from last year. “Ah Professor… you are welcome here!”.
What followed was a very generous tour and explanation of the whole Adinkra process. Bark is harvested from a particular tree in the north of Ghana, and then soaked for 24 hours. Following the soaking is a mashing of the fibers and then into the cauldron they go to cook for a period of time. The first cooking is followed by multiple additional simmering to reduce the consistence down to a progressively thicker inkier substance. From here, the ink is stamped on cloth in significant, and I think, pretty designs. The Adinkra symbolism can be quite complicated, but I find it all fascinating. His brother makes the stamps from a particular kind of tree, you dip the stamp in the ink, give it a firm shake (he was much better at that than I, I could never flick my wrist hard enough to make the ink go flying off). Then the stamp is put down on the fabric. The stamping bench was interesting, there was a padding of foam down that helped the fabric conform to the inked stamp. Much like a foam mattress pad. I meant to ask him what they used previous to foam padding, perhaps when we go back for a second interview I can bring that up.
He was very generous with both his time and his spirit and Dan, Ron, and I had an incredibly rich experience. Unfortunately we had some camera issues – the Kodak camera that the Grant purchased is basically not up to the task. Luckily both Dan and I were filming with our own cameras as well, so I’m confident that when we assemble all of the footage we will have the complete interview. I have to remember no to do mine in HD or I only get 8 minutes worth of recording time! The whole thing is turning out to be just an incredible experience.