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Akoben: Vigilance/ Wariness

A rendering of a contemporary Black woman.
She is self- aware, knowing where she’s from and where she wants to go. A natural, vulnerable, raw, Black woman wearing only cowrie shells around her neck.

In African legend, a love of cowrie shells shows that you could be family to an ocean spirit of wealth and earth. These shells also represent the Goddess of protection in the ocean.

Akoben – 2022
Oil, wax medium on panel
48 x60x 2
Willie Little


In Africa, and in the Americas, the cowrie symbolized destiny and prosperity, and is also thought of as the mouth of Orisha( Spirits that play a key role in the Yoruba Religion in West Africa and several regions of the African Diaspora).

Detail: Cowry Shells


In the portrait she wears three distinct Adinkra symbols engraved on three shells:

  • Ananse Ntontan, (the spiders web) wisdom, creativity (left)
  • Akoben ( war horn) vigilance, wariness (Center)
  • Okodee MMowere, (talons of the eagle) bravery, strength (right)

There are many symbols to represent the essence of the Black woman, these three to represent the essence of her in this painting.

She, who has had to endure much, despite being ridiculed and mocked for her natural features, at the end of the day has the creativity and ingenuity to remain a stunning beauty, rising above and remaining ahead of the fray and the co-opters of her features. In spite of being underestimated and dismissed, she has throughout our American history, come to the aid of a country with bravery and strength to galvanize her people to escape slavery, turn out votes, even when it does not have her back. In spite of being disrespected and rejected, she has a wariness; can be guarded, can see through bullshit with knowing eyes. While many mothers are blessed with this trait, many black women can be said to have a special decrement of omniscience while helping to raise communities of children in this country, without much thanks. She, survives and thrives in spite of all the challenges she faces. The only colors used in this painting are: red, red white, blue and BLACK.

Willie Little

About the symbol Akoben

Akoben – Detail
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