The meaning and philosophical significance of Fihankra
Fihankra is an enclosed or secured compound house. It is a symbol of brotherhood, safety, security, completeness, and solidarity. The etymology of fihankra is fi(e), the Akan word for “house,” plus hankra, an Akan word for “circle.” Thus, “fihankra” translates literally as “house circle,” that is, a “circular house.” It is a type of house with rooms or sub-houses arranged around a central courtyard. This type of house is known as a compound house and is quite common in some parts of Ghana even today.
Communal living among the Akans is the default. “It takes a village to raise a child” is not just figuratively true but literally lived. The underlying concept is that of the common humanity of all mankind. In the olden days, the severest punishment for an offending member of society was banishment. The expression is “twa no asu” to wit, “Cast him across the river.” To do that is to ostracize the person, publicly repudiating his action to deter others.
Safety and security come at a cost and every citizen must be raised and equipped to contribute to his quota. One entrance and one exit for the compound house guarantees that the movement of members of the society are public knowledge. This facilitates the socialization and integration of every member of the household into the family unit, and, by extension, the broader society as there is a societal check on people’s behavior.
Further, this architecture ensures that there is interaction as people cannot go to and fro without encountering others.
It also reduces the probability of breaches–the single source of of weakness can be carefully guarded. Besides, the safety in numbers works to the advantage of the household. You are unlikely to be attacked or robbed if you live in a traditional compound house–there’s always someone to come to your rescue. Neither will you go hungry if you a a well-integrated member of society.
- The meaning of the symbol was taken from The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis.
- The image of the symbol was taken from the Adinkra Icons Project.