Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education

The Power of Sankofa


Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana.  The literal translation of the word and the symbol is it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”


The word is derived from the words:

SAN  (return),

KO  (go),

FA (look, seek and take).

The sankofa symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge among the Akan with the implication that the quest is based on critical examination, and intelligent and patient investigation.

The symbol — shown in the photo on an interior window in the Carter G. Woodson Center — is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards. Thus the Akan belief that the past serves as a guide for planning the future. To the Akan it is this wisdom in learning from the past which ensures a strong future.

The Akans believe that there must be movement and new learning as time passes, but as this forward march proceeds the knowledge of the past must never be forgotten.


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