Sankofa : Go Back and Retrieve

Symbol of Wisdom, Knowledge, and the People's Heritage

From the aphorism : Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a, yenkyi.

Literal translation:

There is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight.

In the Akan language of Ghana, SANKOFA means "go back and retrieve" : SAN (return), KO (go), FA (look, seek and take). This symbolizes the Akan's quest for knowledge with the implication that the quest is based on critical examination, and intelligent and patient investigation.

The symbol is based on a mythical bird that flies forwards with its head turned backwards. This reflects the Akan belief that the past serves as a guide for planning the future, or the wisdom in learning from the past in building the future.

The Akan believe that there must be movement with times but as the forward march proceeds, the gems must be picked from behind and carried forward on the march.

In other words (thanks Karen Gilliam from Gilliam Consulting) :
It is not taboo to go back and fetch it when you forget or don’t know.
Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated. The Sankofa bird has its feet firmly planted forward, but its head turned backwards, with an egg, symbolizing the future, held tightly in its mouth. Not only is there wisdom in learning from the past to build the future but we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. In every aspect of life – personal, spiritual, business, professional, whatever, you cannot move forward until you’ve looked back and absorbed where you’ve been.

In the Akan military system, this symbol signified the rearguard, the section on which the survival of the society and the defense of its heritage depended.


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