Weavers of Ghana convey history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, moral values, codes of conduct and religious beliefs through ceremonial weaving of special patterns and colours called “Kente.” Samples of Kente cloth date back to the 11th century — 700 years ago!
Kente cloth is hand woven on a horizontal loom. Strips about four inches wide are sewn together to make larger pieces of cloth. Yarn for the cloth is traditionally spun from cotton or silk. Various colors have different symbolic meanings (see below) and different combinations of silk, cotton, and colored yarn carry different levels of prestige. There are more than 300 types of cloth design patterns. Each design has a name and a meaning; weaving the designs with different colors affects the meanings.
“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 was inituially made by the Ewe people (based in the Volta Region) and was made popular when the Akan people made it a traditional cloth (including the Asante, Bono, Fante 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 the Ahsanti Empire. Lastly, Kente is worn by other groups like the Ga people who have been influenced by both the Ewes and 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.
Meanings of the colours in Kente cloth (a):
- 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—associated with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
- purple—associated 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): African Journey