Patrique deGraft-Yankson

Patrique deGraft-Yankson
The author

Taking the SDGs Home

Since the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force on 1st January 2016, several efforts have been put in place to ensure its successful promulgation and realization. Governments are making various efforts to factor these essential goals into policies, actions, laws and budget lines. Whenever the opportunity avails itself, personalities from various walks of life mount advocacies aimed at spurring the people into action.

 the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 20 20210111 1425557733

UN's official SDG Icons (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/)


Through my participation in the Exploring Visual Culture Project, which links its target for quality education through trans-cultural image mobilization and interpretation to the pursuance of Quality Education in the SDGs, I have developed a heightened interest in the SDGs. However, the more my interest deepens in the promises of the SDGs, the more I question its visibility especially among the people who, in my opinion, need them most. In spite of the insistence on the claim that the SDGs are for all nations and peoples – rich, poor, black, white – the truth remains that many of the people to whom these goals are very crucial are not even aware of them. In putting this assumption to test, I tried to introduce the 17 SDGs to people of different educational levels and backgrounds in Ghana, and the level of awareness seemed abysmally low, even among the “well-educated” and literates.

Patrique deGraft-Yankson
Patrique deGraft-Yankson

We may be right to assume that the level of awareness just at a little over four years of its implementation should not be too alarming. However, analyzing such low level of SDGs awareness among a people a country whose president is a Co-Chair of the Eminent Group of Sustainable Development Goals Advocates in Africa leaves some cause to worry.


The good news however is that, not being directly aware of the SDGs in the way they have been blueprinted does not mean the people are insensitive to its calls and claims. The fact is that, most of the demands of the SDGs are already embedded in the culture and belief systems of the people, and I consider this as an important resource to deploy for awareness creation and enthusiastic implementation of the SDGs.


For the realization of UNs commitment to leave no one behind in the mobilization of the citizens of the world to achieve the 2030 agenda (UN, 2020) therefore, I am of the belief that efforts at linking the relevance of the 17 goals to cultural manifestations of the people should be highly considered. The image shown above is a demonstration of how various traditional symbols speaks to the SDGs in a language which is understood by the traditional Ghanaian. These symbols transcend language barriers and their meanings are inherent within their traditional belief systems, making the goals both physically and spiritually relevant to people.


The meanings of the symbols are as follows:


the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 1 20210111 2003796216

Ese Ne Tekrema (The teeth and the tongue)
Symbol of generosity towards one another. Through the formation of a linear relationship in diversity towards a common goal, both the personal and societal needs of the people will be realized.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 2 20210111 1698465137

Funtumfunafu Denkyemfunafu (Siamese/conjoined crocodiles)

Symbol of brotherly feeling, caring and sharing. The society stays stronger when people coexist in the belief that we all smile and grow together when we feed and enjoy the good things in life together.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 3 20210111 1473360028 Dua Afe (Wooden comb)
Symbol of sanitation, cleanliness and beauty. This symbol reechoes the essence of physical and spiritual wellbeing through personal and environmental cleanliness.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 4 20210111 1627092274

Nea Onnim No Sua a, Ohu (Anyone who does not know is capable of ‘knowing’ through education)

Symbol of educational opportunities. This symbol plays down ignorance by reminding people of their inert capabilities to get educated to any level of their preference. In other words, opportunities for quality education exist for all.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 5 20210111 1913898312

Obi Nka Bi (No one bites the other)

Symbol of equal regard, recognition and treatment for all. No one bites the other as a value ensures that all genders and age groupings have equal rights for existence in the society which allow them to listen and be listened.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 6 20210111 1487171957

Sesa Wo Suban (Change your life)

Symbol of deterrence and admonition towards all unapproved societal behaviors that affect the natural environment. This symbol represents strong advocacy for transformation and dynamic life patterns that affect nature. One of the unacceptable life patterns this symbol is currently addressing is the Ghanaian youth’s preference for wealth through illegal mining which destroys precious water bodies
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 7 20210111 1602035070

Pempasie (Sew in readiness)

Symbol of production and sustainability. This symbol emphasizes the importance of societal preparedness and readiness for the future through effective production and management of all resources for posterity.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 8 20210111 1209900372

Aya (Fern)

Symbol of resourcefulness through resilience, self-reliance, hard work and judicious engagement of the environment and its resources.

the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 9 20210111 1562802379 Nkyimkyim (Twisting)
Symbol of collective action towards the building of the human society through initiative, dynamism, versatility, innovation and resilience. Indeed, building a successful society, like life itself, is not a smooth journey. The journey of life is tortuous and it requires a great amount of innovation and creativity to sail through.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 10 20210111 1520472922 Nkonsonkonson (Chain)
A symbol of unity. This symbol, depicting two links in a chain, advocates for the need to heal the componentized society since in unity lies strength.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 11 20210111 1430130162 Eban (Fence)
A symbol of love, safety and security. The fence symbolically secures and protects the family from unhealthy activities outside of it.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 12 20210111 2071893863

Hwehwe Mu Dua (Measuring stick)

Symbol of examination and Self/Quality Control. This symbol emphasizes the need for circumspection in all human endeavors. It directs attention to self and quality control in everything including production and consumption. It admonishes against over consumption, over production and all forms of egoistic instincts and behaviors which adversely affect the general good of the society.

the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 13 20210111 1981381006

Nyame Biribi Wo Soro (God resides in the heavens)

Symbol of reverence to the heavens, the abode of the Supreme Being. Recognition to the ‘heavens’, or the skies as the residence of the supreme being is tied to the belief that all good things come from the heavens – rains, sunshine, fresh air, etc. The ‘heavens’ need to be respected for continuous flow of life-given goodies.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 14 20210111 1140387368

Ananse Ntentan (Spider’s Web)

Symbol of knowledge and wisdom about the complexities of life. This symbol alludes to the intricate personality of Ananse, the spider, a well-known character in Ghanaian/African folktales. In Ananse’s world, all facets of life need to be somehow manipulated, positively or negatively, for good or bad reasons. This sometimes led him to dire situation. Ananse therefore is a character for admonitions and reprimanding. Being conscious about the character of Ananse guides your steps against any unfair treatment to the world around you, be it the skies, on the land, in the waters or below the waters.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 15 20210111 1921120475

Asase Ye Duru (The Earth/Land is heavy)

Symbol for reverence and recognition to the providence and the divinity of the ‘Earth/Land’ and everything associated with it. The ‘Earth’ is the mother to everything. It carries the entire humanity, trees, water bodies, the sea (and what is in it and beneath it), big and small animals, etc. This why it is described as ‘heavy’. Respect/reverence to the Land is respect/reverence to life.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 16 20210111 1847480093

Mpatapo (Knot of Pacification/Reconciliation)

Symbol of bonding and adjudicatory factor which brings back parties in a dispute to a peaceful, harmonious and reconciliatory coexistence to ensure unified and strong societies and institutions.
the adinkra interpretations for the sustainable development goals 17 20210111 1617332524

Ti Koro Nko Agyina (One Head does not forma Council)

Symbol for partnership, collaboration and teamwork. This symbol emphasizes the importance of cooperation and collective efforts in the realization of all goals. Obviously, the attainment of the SDGs is a collective responsibility. No one nation (one head) can make it happen. It takes the concerted efforts of the entire citizenship of the world.



  • Adinkra Brand, A. (2020, November 15). African adinkra symbols and meanings. Retrieved from Adinkra Brand: https://www.adinkrabrand.com/blog/african-adinkra-symbols-and-meanings/
  • Kasahorow Adinkra Library, K. A. (2020, November 15). Adinkra symbols and meanings. Retrieved from Kasahorow Adinkra Library: https://www.adinkrasymbols.org/symbols/nkyinkyim/
  • United Nations, U. (2020, December 7). Sustainable Development. Retrieved from Uited Nations: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda-retired/



published January 2021