The first country that comes to mind at the mention of Kente Cloth is Ghana, the West African country best known for this brightly coloured woven fabric.
Today on the blog, we take a quick look at the origin, meaning and uses of the Ghanaian Kente Cloth.
History and Origins
Where did the Kente cloth come from?
There are quite a number of stories as regards the origin of the Kente cloth, yet it is clear that it traces its origin to the Akan ethnic group located in the Ashanti region of Ghana.
According to Ashanti legend, in the 17th century, two brothers from the village of Bonwire, came across a spider spinning a web. Amazed by the web’s intricate beauty, the brothers returned to their homes eager to recreate the spider’s web. They wove a cloth using black and white fibers from a raffia tree. The fabric they produced looked like a basket and this earned it the name “Kente” as the Akan name for the basket is “Kenten”.This new discovery was shared with the rulers at that time and they, in turn, chose to adopt the fabric as a national cloth for special occasions.
How is Kente cloth made?
Originally, Kente cloth was woven from raffia fibers but with the increase in trade and importation, Silk became readily available and the weavers chose to use it to make this colorful fabric. The cloth is woven in four-inch narrow strips that are sewn together. It is usually woven on ancient hand looms with craftsmen operating the loom with their hands and feet. The needle, which treads the wrap is placed between the toes and a shuttle passing from the left hand to the right hand in weft movement inserts the weft.
Kente cloth usually has sharply defined geometric shapes woven in bright colors along the entire length of the strip. Women are not allowed to weave the Kente cloth, hence the whole process is left to the men.
What do the colours of the Kente cloth mean?
Originally, the first set of Kente cloth was in black and white yet in time colour was introduced.
Who wore the Kente cloth in the past?
Kente cloth was reserved for the royals and the elite. It was the ultimate “rich-man cloth”. It was also worn during special occasions.
How is Kente cloth being used today?
Kente cloth is still being used for special occasions in Ghana, especially traditional wedding ceremonies. It is now affordable and readily available to everyone, not just the elites.
In other parts of the world, especially in the United States, the fabric has been used to make scarves to be worn on graduation by African American and African students. These scarves are worn to represent the membership to a Black sorority, fraternity, or an African student organization at the different colleges and universities.