Kente cloth dates back to the twelfth century to the country of Ghana in West Africa.  Kente cloth was a garment reserved for the royals (kings and queens) and other important figures in Ghana's political society till about the 18th century.    Kente cloth is documented to be traditionally woven by the Asante and Ewe tribes who wore them at ceremonies and other important events. Many photographs taken at a ceremony or event depict the King wearing Kente and gold jewelry which includes amulets and necklaces.        

    The pattern on a Kente cloth resembles a basket, the word Kente is derived from the world basket - "kenten".  The first Kente clothes resembled a basket because they were woven with raffia fibers.  Modern day Kente cloths are made up from materials such as:  cotton, silk, lurex, and rayon. Yarn prior to weaving is dyed in a variety of colors, many of the common colors include: gold, green, blue, black and red.   Traditionally woven by men, Kente cloth is an example of Africa's visual arts that has complex symbolic connection to verbal arts - meaning that its graphic decorations have a direct relation to proverbs, traditional sayings, or historical events - typically the name of the cloth does not correlate with the design.  "Interpreting" a Kente cloth reminds one of watching someone reading hieroglyphics - if the interpreter is well versed in the ancient language and meanings of the depictions the cloth is translatable.  Majority of the depictions for royal or political figures are related to the government and it is achievements, the primary patrons of the Kente is royalty.

    Kente cloth is woven on a horizontal loom that has between four and seven treadles (treadles help regulate the design - four produce a simple design, seven or more produce a complex design).  The pieces are woven into narrow strips that are about four inches wide and five to six feet long.  The garments are made custom to fit a male or female, they also vary in colors and design - the male version of a Kente cloth is one large piece wrapped similar to a toga and the female versions have individual garment pieces (i.e.: bodice, skirt).  A male's Kente may is made up of approximately 24 strips sewn together and is between five and eight feet long, and is worn draped over the left shoulder (a few are draped over the right shoulder).  A female's Kente is made up of 2 garments and each has about 8-12 strips of Kente in it.  Some of the designs on the cloth may be of animals - but common design elements are the triangle, wedge, hour-glass shapes, circles, lines, etc.  Traditionally, the size, pattern and color are determined by gender, age, marital and social status.

    There are several different types of Kente including the woven loom-made pieces by the Asantes, those woven in a factory or those that have the print stamped onto them.  Various weaving techniques include: a plain or straight weave, weft inlay weave which is the practice of inserting items into the weave, and another technique that hides the warp or vertical threads.  Weft inlays and the hiding of the warp threads are all weaving techniques that take time and make these pieces more valuable and expensive, the price tag for a finely made

    Kente can range between two and four thousand dollars.  The technique of how the warp threads are laid is also significant.  The laying of a weft thread creates a visual representation of beliefs, historical events, philosophy, politics, religious thought, or moral values in the African culture, or individuals "black pride". Each Kente pattern is unique, and can be identified by its own name and meaning.  There are currently over 300 types of designs. Each Asante king creates his own design once he takes office, which he chose carefully for he would be forever remembered by it.

    Kente cloth is no longer reserved just for the royals it is for people of all social status.  In the past Kente were patroned from artisans only by royals, now with the economic prosperity it has become feasible for the non-royals to express a demand for Kente cloths.  In a small retaliation a Kente was designed and named "wonya wo ha a, wonye dehyee" meaning "you may be rich, but you are not of a royal descent."  The royals wore this to distinguish them from the non-royals who have adopted wearing Kente in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  However an individual may not decide to make their own design and wear it, royalty must first be offered the design and if it is declined then it is permissible to wear for a non-noble.

    Ghana achieved it is independence from Britain in 1960, at that time the Kente transitioned from a cloth worn only by royalty to a cloth of the people being a symbol of national pride.  Ordinary citizens began to buy Kente, majority of which being affordable "factory" versions, and they wore them for special celebrations.  A new trend began and now it extends from Africa to include the United States which where African Americans keep this symbol of their cultural identity close to them as an important symbol to highlight their heritage, and to be worn on days such as those during Black History month celebrations.  African Americans hold close to them and renew their pride with their motherland by wearing a Kente cloth for more than just reasons of fashion - it is for inspiration, and a reflection of the art of their African ancestors from Ghana.   

    Kente however cloth has not remained strictly a piece that relates to the people, it also has been involved in politics.  The largest Kente cloth was presented to the United Nations when Ghana joined this world organization.  The cloth measures 12x20 feet and is named "tikoro nko agyina" which means "one head does constitute a council".  The presentation of the cloth stated that Ghana is now taking its legitimate place in the new world order.  In the 1960s during the Cold War Era, Ghana was one of the founding members of the Non-Alignment Movement which was a third rail to the two other world powers of that time - the Soviet Bloc countries and the US led, "West".

    The Kente cloth helps Africans and those of African descent maintain and keep their cultural identity.  It is one of the fewer costumes you would not see one from another culture (i.e.: Swedish) wearing because everyone recognizes its cultural background.  The meaning may have changed over the years, but it's still the thought that counts and Africans across the globe identify wearing it to their heritage.  Africans across the globe wear Kente with pride, self inspiration, and to maintain their cultural identity. 



Asamoah-Yaw, Ernest. Kente Cloth - Introduction to History. New York: Ashante,
1992.
Dickerson, Debra J. The End of Blackness. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.
Adler, Peter, Nicholas Barnard. African Majesty. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.,
1992.
Sieber, Roy. African Textiles and Decorative Arts. New York: The Museum of Modern
Art, 1972.
Plumer, Cheryl. African Textiles. Michigan: Michigan State University, 1970.
Idiens, Dale, K.G. Ponting, ed. Textiles of Africa. Bath: The Pasold Research Fund
Ltd., 1980.
Reswick, Irmtraud. Traditional Textiles of Tunisia and Related North African Weavings.
California: Craft and Folk Art Museum, 1985.
Arthur, Kojo and Rowe, Robert. " Akan Kente Cloth Symbols: Introduction." Akan
Kente Cloths. November 18, 2005. Marshall University. December 1, 2005
<http://www.marshall.edu/akanart/cloth_kente.html>
Republic of Ghana. 1995. Network Computer Systems Ltd. December 1, 2005.
<http://www.ghana.com/republic/kente/>
History of Kente. 1999-2001. Travel Ghana Ltd. December 1, 2005
<http://www.ghana.co.uk/history/fashion/kente.htm>
Exploring Africa. Michigan State University. December 1, 2005.
<http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/curriculum/lm12/stu_actthree.html>
Ghana National Cloth Kente. Embassy of Ghana in Japan. December 1, 2005.
<http://www.ghanaembassy.or.jp/general/native.html>
History of Ashanti Kente Cloth. 2005. Midwest Trade Group. December 1, 2005.
<http://kente.midwesttradegroup.com/history.html>
Introduction to Ashanti Kente Cloths. Version: March 18, 2003. Clarke, Duncan.
December 1, 2005. <http://www.adire.clara.net/kenteintro.htm>
Kente. 2005. New York Times Company. December 1, 2005.
<http://africanhistory.about.com/library/glossary/bldef-kente.htm>
Kente Cloth. 2004. afrodome.com. December 1, 2005.
<http://www.afrodome.com/kente>
Wrapped in Pride. National Museum of African Art. December 1, 2005.
<http://www.nmafa.si.edu/exhibits/kente/credits.htm>


 

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.