Ever wondered about the heritage of that beautiful garment we all love so much? Kente, as we call it here in Ghana, is known to Ethiopian’s as Kuta, Kitenge in Kenya and Uganda, and Kuba in some parts of Central Africa. The name Kente came to be because the initial Kente weavers used raffia fibers to weave cloths that resembled a basket, known in the Ashanti dialect as Kenten. Thus the cloth was referred to as “Kenten Ntoma” meaning “Basket Cloth”. This cloth can also be referred to as “nsaduaso or nwantoma”, meaning a “cloth hand woven on a loom”, which is the original name of the cloth and also paints a vivid picture of how the cloth is made in local communities.
Kente is created by the Akans in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, the Akan community in Ivory Coast and some communities in the Volta Region. Notable areas that engage in the production of Kente are Bonwire, Adanwomase, Sakora, Wonoo, Ntonso all in the Ashanti Region of Ghana and Agotime in the Volta Region.
The cloth was discovered sometime in the 12th Century and was the preserve of the royal family. Kente was worn only during special occasions. Since culture was not designed to be static but rather dynamic, the cloth is now a household name and is used by everybody both young and old. Kente is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips. It is usually hand woven on a horizontal treadle loom with a strip size of 4 inches, which is then sewn together to create the full outline of the “basket cloth”. History has it that two friends who went hunting in a forest located within the Ashanti Empire spotted a spider making its web. They took keen interest into the works of the spider and studied for two days how the spider made the web. They then went home and implemented what they saw. The Kente cloth ever since then has become a novelty of the African culture and its beauty is peculiar.
The cloth is woven in several colours and carries a significant meaning to those who know and appreciate the Kente story. Some key colours featured on Kente cloths are; Black which represent maturity or intensified spiritual energy, Grey which stands for healing and cleansing rituals, on the other hand Green speaks about vegetation, harvest, spiritual renewal. These colours among a host of several other colours are what beefs up the value of the Kente cloth within the Ghanaian society. Another aspect of the Kente Cloth worth considering is the various patterns of the cloth. With about five different patterns, one is always offered a range of options to pick from for a special occasion. These very patterns also embody historical facts that will marvel you.
For Instance, Kyemfere (Potsherd) is a pattern that describes experience, knowledge, service, antiquity derived from the Akan proverb : Kyemfere se odaa ho akye, na onipa a onwene no nso nye den? The literal translation means: The Potsherd claims it has been around from time immemorial: what about the porter who molded it?
Another pattern is Obaakofo mmu oman (One person does not rule a nation) and can also be referred to as Fathia Fata Nkrumah (Fathia deserves Nkrumah): A symbol that speaks of marital relationships, participatory democracy and also a warning against dictatorship. It is interesting to note that this cloth commemorates the marriage between the First President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Fathia of Egypt.
There is also Sika Futuro (Gold Dust) which alludes to the pre-colonial use of gold dust as a currency, Apremo (Cannon) is a resistance against foreign domination and Asasia Puduo; a cast brass vessel used in rites to sustain the family are the various patterns of the Kente Cloth.
The Kente cloth is a cultural heritage and anytime you put it on you either as a cloth, sewn into a dashiki or any peculiar design that best fits you, remember that you are wearing your culture.