Sankofa tattoo meaning and symbolism

Sankofa is a word from the Twi language in Ashanti of Ghana.  It refers to a bird with fascinating behavior, who after going back to gather its fallen feathers, returns to its nest.

The most common interpretation is that it’s about learning from past mistakes and moving forward.

The Sankofa bird has a unique meaning in African religions, giving its symbolism with roots deeply connected to the ancestors. It is also heavily associated with ancestral powers, guidance and protection.

The Sankofa is characterized by its black-and-white feathers pattern, resembling the pattern of the Adinkra symbols used in traditional Ghanaian art.

Sankofa arm tattoo
Sankofa arm tattoo @ inkwatattoos

Sankofa Tattoo meaning and symbolism


Sankofa tattoo can be regarded as a spiritual protection symbol since it brings its wearer closer to the ancestors, who are believed to control the powers of nature. It is commonly associated with ancestor worship, an important part of traditional African religions.


Since Sankofa is associated with the past, it is commonly incorporated into tattoos related to remembrance, such as memory tattoos or memorial tattoos. It also has a connection to history and historical events, making it suitable for representing historical figures from Africa’s past, such as warriors or kings.

past mistakes

Probably one of the most common spiritual meanings for Sankofa tattoos, represented in the concept of learning from past mistakes. This makes it perfect to use when wanting to make a positive change in life or get over some type of addiction, depression or other mental illness.


The bird is also associated with fatherhood and masculinity, which is why it makes a great tattoo for men.

Sankofa tattoo colors and their meaning

Sankofa tattoos come in a wide range of colors and their symbolism is connected to what color they have. The most common color associated with Sankofa is black, representing the connection with the ancestors and dark spiritual forces.

  • white

Since Sankofa also symbolizes purity it can be used as a contrast to other symbols, such as snakes, skulls or other dark themes. It would be impossible to find a Sankofa tattoo without white elements in it, making it perfect for those looking for symbolism that can stand out.

  • red

Red is also one of the most common colors used for this bird, especially when representing war and masculine energy. Sankofa tattoos done in red become a symbol of strength and courage in war.

  • green

Adding green elements to a Sankofa tattoo transforms it into a powerful healing symbol or creates an interesting contrast when used with black ink. Green is also associated with nature, making this combination perfect for those looking for symbolism related to the connection between human beings and nature.

  • blue

Sankofa can also be portrayed using blue, representing the connection with water.

  • yellow

Another less common color is yellow, which represents spiritual enlightenment. It can also represent personal growth and change when used alongside other colors. There are only a few examples of Sankofa tattoos done in yellow ink, but they are definitely worth taking a look at.

Sankofa tattoo placements and their meaning

Since Sankofa tattoos are usually done to include spirituality or symbolism, they can be placed anywhere on the body. Their placement will give them a different meaning though, so take that into consideration when looking to get this tattoo.

  • lower back

One of the most common placements is on the lower back, which makes it easily hidden from sight. This placement is perfect for those wanting a spiritual tattoo that can only be seen by those close to them.

  • upper back

When looking for a location to get a Sankofa tattoo, the upper back is also very popular due to its larger surface area and comfort when it comes to the job.

  • side of the body

Sankofa tattoos look great on both sides of the body, especially around the ribs and waist area. They also go well with other symbols, such as snakes or skulls. Getting a Sankofa alongside a skull tattoo is an excellent idea for those looking to represent their African ancestry in a unique way.

  • lower leg

A great place for showing off your ink, the lower leg offers plenty of space for this type of tattoo. The ankle is one of the most common placements, with the calf also being popular among women.

Sankofa tattoo design ideas

There are many elements you can use to design a Sankofa tattoo and it all depends on what symbolism or spiritual meaning you want to attach to it.

However, there are a few elements that every good design needs. For example, the neckline is very popular for this type of tattoos as it represents movement from one stage of life into another.

You can add a lot of other symbolism and elements to it, but this one is essential to make your design look like a Sankofa.

The feathers are another common element in many designs and work very well with the neckline. They also represent movement and spiritual connection. The feet play an important role when designing Sankofa tattoos, especially when it comes to tribal designs.

The feet represent the connection with the earth, which gives it an interesting meaning when combined with feathers. The colors used in Sankofa tattoos are usually bright and contrasting, but always include white, since that is what makes it stand out from other tattoos.

There are many ideas for Sankofa tattoos and that is why we love them so much. They can be placed anywhere and look great on both men and women, making it a versatile piece of ink.

Sankofa arm tattoo
Sankofa arm tattoo @ paulettemaciasm