Kente Cloth

“Kente cloth” has its origin with the Akan people. It is a royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance. Kente was the cloth of kings. Over time, the use of kente became more widespread, however its importance has remained and it is held in high esteem in the Akan family and the entire country of Ghana.

In Ghana, kente is made by the Akan people (including the AsanteBonoFante and Nzema). Kente is also produced by Akan groups in Cote d’Ivoire, like the Baoule and Anyin, who trace their ancestry back to Ghana before the rise of theAshanti Empire. Lastly, Kente is worn by other groups like the Ewe and Ga who have been influenced by Akans. It is the best known of all African textiles. Kente comes from the word kenten, which means “basket.” The Akan peoples refer to kente as Nwentoma or “woven cloth”.

The icon of African cultural heritage around the world, Asante kente is identified by its dazzling, multicolored patterns of bright colors, geometric shapes and bold designs. Kente characterized by weft designs woven into every available block of plain weave is called adweneasa. The Asante peoples of Ghana choose kente cloths as much for their names as their colors and patterns. Although the cloths are identified primarily by the patterns found in the lengthwise (warp) threads, there is often little correlation between appearance and name. Names are derived from several sources, including proverbs, historical events, important chiefs, queen mothers, and plants.

Symbolic meanings of the colors in Kente cloth:

  • black — maturation, intensified spiritual energy
  • blue — peacefulness, harmony and love
  • green — vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
  • gold — royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
  • grey — healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
  • maroon — the color of mother earth; associated with healing
  • pink — assoc. with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
  • purple — assoc. with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
  • red — political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death.
  • silver — serenity, purity, joy; assoc. with the moon
  • white — purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
  • yellow — preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility

A variety of kente patterns have been invented, each of which has a certain concept or concepts traditionally associated with it. [2] For example, the Obaakofoo Mmu Man pattern symbolizes democratic rule; Emaa Da, novel creativity and knowledge from experience; and Sika Fre Mogya, responsibility to share monetary success with one’s relations.[2]

Legend has it that kente was first made by two friends who went hunting in a forest and found a spider making its web.[3] The friends stood and watched the spider for two days then returned home and implemented what they had seen. West Africa has had a cloth weaving culture for centuries via the Stripweavemethod but, Akan history tells of the cloth being created independent of outsider influence.

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