Ewe cultural symbols are said to originate from myths. These myths which became fables, developed into poems and songs then later evolved to proverbs out of which the symbols were generated (Dzobo, 1997). They are represented in their indigenous art forms such as their linguistic staff, stools, canoes, local architecture, doors and paintings. They are predominantly seen in their traditional woven cloth known as ‘kete’. The symbols and their meanings which are scarcely known are embedded in the minds of the older generations who are gradually dying with the knowledge. This leaves the younger generation, who seem to be less concerned, ignorant of these symbols and their meanings.
The symbols used by Ewes are derived from their proverbs. These symbols are used by royals, traditionalist, traditional rulers, elders and the people within the community. There are symbols reserved for religious purposes as well as those reserved for the traditional rulers. For instance the ‘Fiayi’ is a symbol for chiefs. The symbol literally means ‘the royal sword’and is seen as a symbol of authority and justice. Derived from the proverb ‘Nukoe wu ame wotsɔ fiayi sẽ atie’ which means circumstances compel one to cut a tree with a royal sword, the symbol is used to teach that there are certain circumstances in life that do not require the same solutions every time; it might require going the extra mile to use the impossible to solve whatever problem it is.
There are also symbols used for herbalist and traditionalist like the ‘Amagba’ symbol. Similarly, there are symbols which are universal; they are used by everyone.
Researchers like Atiase (2012) and Vigbedor (2011) developed various Ewe cultural symbols which they postulated were taken from their proverbs or adages.
1.The ‘kavuvu’ symbol which literally means ‘vine Support’ is a symbol of patience. Taken from the proverb ‘Ati nͻ agbԑ ŋuti ka vuna ɖo’which literally means ‘It is on a living tree that the vine grows’. The symbol teaches support, growth and interdependence on one another within the community.
2. The ‘zegbagbã’ (broken pot) symbol which is identified as a symbol of imperfection is taken from the proverb ‘tͻmedelae gbãa ze’ which literally means ‘it is the one who fetches water that breaks the pot’. This symbol teaches about tolerance with one another’s imperfections within the society. When the mishaps of life happen, it should not be considered as something grave, but as one of the inevitables of life.
3.The ‘nu kple ge’ (mouth and beard) symbol which is a symbol of sharing. It is derived from the proverb ‘Ne nyo na nua eyae wogbãna ɖe ge me’which literally means ‘it is when the mouth is full of food, that some fall into the beard’. This symbol emphasizes the need for individuals within the society to be of help to one another because when an individual becomes very successful, the ones who benefit is not only the family members but the indigenes of that community as well. Even if not everyone within the society benefits, at least the neighbours get something small as tokens of appreciation.
4.The next is the ‘atamagui’ (snuff box) symbol which is a symbol of kindness generated from the proverb ‘atamagui be ame si nyo dͻme na ame la ɖe woxlẽa eƒe ta ɖe ati’ (the snuff box says that it is the head of a benefactor that is knocked against a tree). It teaches even if you do well to offer any act of kindness, beware of people who might exchange your kindness with evil.
5.The symbol of light which is referred to as ‘gomekaɖi’ (lantern) is taken from the adage ‘Kekeli’ meaning ‘there is light’. This symbol expresses concern on the essence of light in that, wherever light is, it overpowers darkness. In other words, wherever there is positivity, knowledge, wisdom, progress and growth negativity, ignorance, foolishness, retrogression and stagnation is overpowered.
6.The ‘ŋku kple alɔ̃ (The eye and sleep) symbol, a symbol of tolerance and co-operation, is taken from the proverb ‘Dzre mele ŋku kple alɔ̃ dome o’ literally meaning ‘there is no quarrel between the eye and sleep’. It is difficult to sleep with your eyes open. The ability for one to sleep is dependent on the decision of the eyes to close. The symbol is to teach that when two parties involved in making a decision for communal growth are not on good terms, the situation should not be taken lightly as the destiny of the community hangs on the cooperation of these two parties.
7.The symbol of usefulness which is referred to as the ‘gui’ (gourd) symbol is derived from the proverb ‘Gui meɖi naneke o, gake ŋudͻwͻnu le eŋu’ which is literally translated as ‘the gourd looks unimportant, but has its usefulness’. This is to say that everyone, irrespective of where they are from or the state in which you find them now, in one way or the other, play important roles within the society.
8. The ‘koklozi le kpe dzi’ (egg on a stone) symbol is a symbol of cautiousness. Derived from the proverb ‘Koklozi meɖua ɣe le kpe dzi o’ which literally means ‘the egg does not dance on a rock’, the symbol cautions people against the gravity of doing things that beyond their capabilities; that people should always work within their limits.
9. The ‘Ahliha’ (Laterite rock) symbol also known as a symbol of support is used to emphasize the need for helping one another. The symbol was generated from the proverb ‘Ta gbͻlo metsͻa hliha o’ which literally means ‘the bare head cannot carry a laterite rock’. This is to say that, just as the laterite rock would need a pad to help support anyone who is carrying it on the head, people need to support one another in other to move forward especially in times of difficulties.
10. The ‘atͻkula’ (cockerel) symbol is a symbol of dawn and awakening which serves as a reminder for productivity and the maximization of ones potential in its entirety. It was taken from the proverb ‘ŋu yeye ke na mí’ meaning ‘a new dawn has come to us’.
11. ‘Kpͻtimakpa’ (Jethropa plant) which is a symbol of defiance was generated from the proverb ‘mele te xeyiɣi sia xeyiɣi’ meaning we are stable in all situations. It advices people on the need to persevere and endure throughout the uncertainties of life. It teaches them to be self-reliant and ingenious when dealing with situations of life.
12.The ‘kokloxͻ’ (Hen coop) symbol, generated from the proverb ‘Kokloxͻ mekpea ŋu na koklo o’ (a fowl is not shy of its coop) is a symbol of contentment. It takes humility to be content with what one has. The symbol teaches people to be humble enough to appreciate and be satisfied with wherever they find themselves no matter how lowly the place might seem.
13.‘Ati alͻ etɔ̃’ (three arms) is a symbol of worship which symbolizes the tripartite nature of God and his protection over the life of an individual. The symbol is used to remind people of the existence of God and his protection. This symbol was generated from the proverb ‘Nu etͻ yae wͻ agbe’ which literally means it is three things that make life.
14.‘Deti’ (Palm tree) is considered a symbol of versatility which was generated from the proverb `dͻwͻnu le nyuie le mͻ geɖeewo nu’ meaning an individual is either dynamic or versatile in all aspects of life. The palm tree is said to be the king of all tree due to its versatility in terms of functionality. The symbol is used to motivate the youth especially to maximize every potential in them and be productive in all aspects for the continual growth of the community.
15. ‘Afͻxͻdzo’ (Hot feet) is a symbol of punishment which is used to advice people on the fact that it is the one who does wrong that is punished for the wrong committed. It was taken from the proverb ‘Ne anyigba xͻ dzo la, afͻe nyana’ which literally means ‘It is only the foot that knows when the ground is hot’.
16. ‘Agaga lolo’ (the big cowry) is a symbol of value which counsels people on the need to value and respect one another because everyone is unique in their own way; someone would have a strength that might be another person’s weakness. It was derived from the proverb ‘Agaga lolo me ƒle na agaga eve ƒe nu o.’ which means ‘One big cowry cannot be used to pay for two cowries’.
17. The ‘anyigba sesẽ’ (Solid earth) symbol is one of circumspection. It is used to caution people against priding themselves over the good life they have now because life is full of uncertainties.
It was also generated from the proverb ‘Anyigba sesẽ gake agama ɖo na afɔ anyi blewuu’ which means ‘though the earth is solid, the chameleon makes cautious steps on it.