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What is the Tabono symbol?

The West African Adinkra language is full of many symbols representing complex ideas, expressions, the attitudes of the West African people toward life, as well as their proverbs and behaviors. One of the most popular and captivating of these symbols is the tabono. A symbol of strength, hard work, and persistence, tabono can be as powerful a symbol today as it has been for the West African people for thousands of years.

What Is Tabono?

The tabono symbol is drawn as four stylized oars or paddles forming a cross. The symbol’s literal meaning in the Adinkra language is precisely “oar or paddle”. So, the tabono can be viewed as either showing four paddles rowing in unison or a single paddle rowing continuously.

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The latter interpretation is more widely accepted than the former but in either case, tabono is associated with the hard work of rowing in a boat. Thus, the tabono’s metaphorical meaning is as a symbol of persistence, hard work, and strength.

Tabono Today

While neither the tabono symbol nor most other West African Adinkra symbols are as popular today as they should be, the meaning behind the tabono symbol is as significant today as it was 5,000 years ago.

Strength, hard work, and persistence are timeless qualities that people always value which makes the tabono symbol very relevant today. Plus, the fact that it’s not as commonly used as symbols from other cultures only makes it that much more unique.

Adinkra Proverbs About Tabono

The West African Adinkra language is very rich in proverbs and wise thoughts, many of which are just as meaningful in the 21st century. With the tabono symbol being pivotal for the West African culture, it’s no surprise that there are many proverbs regarding strength, persistence, and hard work. Here are a few of them:

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  • Great is the strength of an individual soul true to its high trust; mighty is it, even to the redemption of a world.
  • Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.
  • Every time you forgive a man, you weaken him and strengthen yourself.
  • Every joy that comes to us is only to strengthen us for some greater work that is to succeed.
  • Honesty gives wings to strength.
  • Cunning surpasses strength.
  • Loss of strength is more frequently due to the faults of youth than of old age.
  • All strength lies within, not without.
  • Although men are accused of not knowing their weakness, yet perhaps as few know their strength.


  • Persistence in change.
  • Few things are impossible to persistence and skill.
  • Truth is a stronghold, and persistence is laying siege to it; so that it must observe all the avenues and passes to it.
  • The opinions of men are as many and as different as their persons; the greatest persistence and most practical conduct can never please them all.
  • Persistence is the mother of good fortune.
  • Persistence is the first condition of all fruitfulness in the ways of humanity.
  • Persistence is of no use where luck is wanting.
  • Genius is nothing but labor and persistence.
  • What we hope ever to do with ease we may learn first to do with diligence.

Hard Work

  • He that works hard and perseveres spins gold.
  • Every great mind seeks to work hard for eternity. All men are captivated by immediate advantages; great minds alone are excited by the prospect of a distant good.
  • Hard work is still the road to prosperity, and there is no other.
  • Everything is sweetened by hard work.
  • Hard work is still the road to prosperity, and there is no other.
  • Hard work is the source of virtue.
  • Hunger is the best sauce.
  • The hard work of life alone teaches us to value the good things of life.
  • Hard work is no disgrace.
  • Nothing falls into the mouth of a sleeping lion.

Wrapping Up

Although the tabono symbol is rooted in West African culture, it’s meaning, and symbolism are universal and can be appreciated by anyone. As a symbol of unity, persistence and hard work required to reach a common destination, it’s the perfect symbol for any group or team needed to achieve a goal together.

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Yordan Zhelyazkov
Yordan Zhelyazkov

Yordan Zhelyazkov is a published fantasy author and an experienced copywriter. While he has degrees in both Creative Writing and Marketing, much of his research and work are focused on history and mythology. He’s been working in the field for years and has amassed a great deal of knowledge on Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese mythology, and others.