The Hidden Ancestral Messages In Ironwork Fences

african burial ground pattern
Briona Lamback
February 20, 2023

We’ve all seen the intricate designs of iron fences and doors, but they’re much more than pretty designs. They’re actually ancestral messages of hope. What do they mean?

Enslaved people working as blacksmiths in New Orleans and other cities were tasked with building iron fences, so they used them to tell stories and infuse their identities within the work. Although there are many designs, there's one particular symbol we should all know.

Adinkra symbols come from the Akan people of West African countries like Ghana and represent symbolic life proverbs. They are usually printed on clothing or artwork like pottery. 

Sankofa means to return and get it, but sometimes it is interpreted as, "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." One of the most popular Adinkra symbols, Sankofa encourages us to look to past wisdom to understand the present because our futures depend on it.

The ironwork still exists right in our faces, and unlike some of our history, we can touch it.  Our ancestors left these encouraging messages behind in Black communities across the diaspora, and there's power in that which we should embrace.

We've been fighting tirelessly for freedom in countries never meant for us for centuries. Taking heed to the ancestral messages intentionally left behind for us is a necessary part of our resilience. 

No matter where we are, there's always a reason to reach back and learn from those who came before us. All we need to do is look around us.

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