The making of Kente cloth is labor intensive. It is an intricately hand-woven, brightly colored cloth that can be traced back to the Ashanti tribe of the 17th century. Kente is woven in narrow, warp strips, of rayon (formerly silk). This textile begins, and ends, with a “head” of five design blocks. The patterns are so intricate that the artist, amid a welter of balls of cotton thread of every color, must sometimes snip off tiny bits to be applied over a width of about 1 centimeter, or even one millimeter, while carefully counting the woof threads. The wearing of Kente, was once the prerogative of the king, and high-ranking chiefs, but today it is worn by other Asante, on formal occasions.
The history of Ghanaian Kente weaving dates back to more than 400 years. The word “Kente” comes from the word “kenten”, which means “basket”. The very first Kente weavers used raffia cane, or palm leaf fibers, and wove them into a cloth that looked like a basket.Women wear the cloth in 2 pieces. 1 piece about 2 yards long and 45 inches wide, wrapped around the waist to form a floor-length skirt worn over a blouse specially sewn in plain material. The 2nd piece was either hung loosely over the arm or used as a shawl or stole. Men wear the cloth in much the same way as the Toga was worn by the ancient Greeks. Ghana and the Kente cloth are culturally inseparable.
Every design has a story with a proverbial meaning, giving each cloth its own distinction. There are more than 300 different patterns of Kente cloth. Each pattern has a name and its own meaning. The meanings come from past events, religious beliefs, political ideas, and social customs.
Kente Colors and their Meanings:
Yellow is a symbol for things that are holy and precious. Pink is used to symbolize gentle qualities such as calmness, sweetness, and tenderness. Red stands for blood and for strong political and spiritual feelings. Maroon is associated with the color of Mother Earth, representing healing and protection from evil. Blue stands for the sky and is used to symbolize holiness, peace, harmony, good fortune, and love. Green is for plants, and stands for growth and good health. Gold like the metal gold, is a symbol of royalty, wealth, and spiritual purity. White represents the white of an egg, as well as the white clay used in certain rituals. It stands for purity and healing. Black stands for aging because in nature, things darken as they get older. It also stands for a strong spiritual energy, and spirits of the ancestors. Grey represents ashes, which are used for spiritual cleansing. Silver is for the moon, and represents serenity, purity, and joy. Purple, like maroon, is associated with Earth and healing.
Obi Nkye Obi Kwan Mu Si (o-Bee n-chee o-Bee k-wahn moo see) pattern translates into “sooner or later one could stray into another person’s path”. Meaning, nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes. If someone happens to get in your way or does something to offend you, it’s important to be understanding and to forgive that person.
Asonawo Ahahamono Emaa Da (ahs-OHN-awoh ah-ahamo-no e-MAH da) cloth represents “the green snake of the Asona”, one of the seven families (the Asante social system has seven main families and each family has its own rights and responsibilities).
Fathia Fata Nkrumah (Fa-THEA fah-TA n-KROH-mah) pattern translates as “Fathia is a befitting wife for Nkrumah”. Fathia was a charming Egyptian woman who married Nkrumah, the first president of the Republic of Ghana. Their marriage was considered special because it represented the unity of African people on the continent.
Abusua Ye Dom (AH-boo-soo-ah yeh dohm) pattern means, “the extended family is a force”. This cloth celebrates the extended family and its important role in maintaining the well being of its members.