The Sankofa is a mystical symbol and recurring theme in Taboo. Burned into the skin on James Delaney's upper back, it appears engraved on some surfaces on several occasions throughout the series.


After James Delaney discovered that Felice Adventurero, the ship he recently bought, was a slave ship, he began to exorcise the ship's hold. After taking off all his clothes and shredding axes and chains, James started chiseling the symbol out on the wooden floor of the ship's hold.[1]

In the following days, James surprised Winter sleeping in his house cellars and the two briefly conversed about magic and murder. During their conversation, Winters claimed to be aware of the meaning of the mark on James' back, referring to it as Sankofa. Later, James discovered the same symbol carved in the interior of the fireplace in his mother's old bedroom, while looking for clues about his mother. To make the symbol he had just noticed more clear, James blew some ashes on the surface, thus exalting the carving that showed the stylized bird folded on itself. When he questioned Brace about it, the servant was unable to see the symbol on the chimney. He was, however, able to see the mark on James' upper back.[2]

Memorable QuotesEdit

"The bird on your neck. I know what it is! The Sankofa."
― Winter to James Delaney

"I have the very same mark on me from when I was taken prisoner in Africa."
― James to Brace


Episode AppearancesEdit

Season 1


  • Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as "Go back and get it". It is the same language used by James Delaney during his rituals.
  • The bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back carved by James Delaney is an Asante Adrinka symbol.
  • The Sankofa is a traditional art symbol adopted by ex-pat African people around the world to represent the need to reflect on and consider the past in order to build a successful future. Not too far a stretch from James’ dark past, future plans and the themes of the series.[3]


  1. Knight, Steven (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 14, 2017, BBC; January 17, 2017, FX; "Episode 2". Taboo.
  2. Knight, Steven (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 21, 2017 BBC; January 24, 2017, FX; "Episode 3". Taboo.
  3. What does the bird symbol in Taboo mean? - Radio Times
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