African Print Frabrics-Names and meanings.

Some say its not African print because it was the Dutch who brought it to our shores. So what were we wearing before they did? I would have to find that out. But what I know is that most of these prints have a story behind the designs. There are some fabrics with designs dating way back in my great grandmother’s time and possibly before. A few of these can still be seen today.

Ghana is one of the leading countries in the production of African print fabric. So to speak, there are two major companies that produce these fabrics; Ghana Textiles Printers (GTP), and Akosombo Textiles Limited (ATL).
These fabrics are mostly designed to mirror various African culture and traditions. Many of the designs found on fabrics portray events or adages. Others also depict highly respected people.
Why is it that some patterns have tortoises on them and some parade large fans in bold and dazzling colors? Its easy to see fingers, lipstick, elephants, birds etc in the array of patterns on our African print. I was curious to find out what each meant, after all its what we wear and there has to be more to the story of the designs on our African print.

 Most of these fabrics produced in Ghana have local names and below are some African prints and their names in my local dialect Akan and their meanings.


 Akyekydeɛ akyi  which literally means The back of the tortoise. I bet you never knew that was shape of this print which is quite common and also one of the retro prints. This print really does resemble the back of a tortoise’s shell with its rough and oval shape taking after the housing of the land-based reptile. Would it be that anyone who wears it is like the back of a tortoise shell? Resilient and protective? Perhaps.


Nsubra  an Akan word for well. The tiny dots which are in a spiral form resemble the ripples made in a well after water is fetched from it or when a stone is dropped into its depths. This is one of the trending fabrics in Ghana and worldwide and can be found sewn into a dress, shirt, shorts, etc. Its varying colors and bold print renders it versatile and confident.


Efie mmosea is the name of this fabric. This, in English is gravels. Gravels because, the design in it looks like small stones. The meaning is that if your sister or a relative hurts you, it is more painful than an outsider. The popular adage is, ‘efie mmosea s3 etwa wua, eye ya’-when a member of your family hurts you, it is very painful.


This fabric is known as sika wo nntaban or sika tu. It is translated as money flies. This simply means that, if you get hold of money, you must take care of it else you will loose it and money lost is difficult to regain. 


Bonsu. We all know that the whale is one of the biggest, if not the biggest animal in the sea. It caries its weight around showing that no animal can tackle it. In Twi, a whale is called ‘Bonsu’ ( Twi is one of the local languages in Ghana). This very fabric is called ‘Bonsu’, literally, the whale in the sea. so when a person puts on this cloth, the message he or she is trying to put across is that, no one can tackle him or her.

This fabric is known as Yaw Donkor.  This is a name of a person, meaning that the first person to s cloth was called ‘Yaw Donkor’ and he was a very rich and popular man. Thus, because of his popularity and passion for African fabric, this particular one was named after him.

Names are given to fabrics so that it becomes easy to identify and purchase. 

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