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Unbroken Threads

The Ashanti of Ghana and Their Kente Cloth

Ananse the spider, the trickster of Ashanti culture, is said to have taught the African people to weave. The best known of all African fabrics, kente is beautiful cloth made by the Ashanti and Ewe people of Ghana. Kente is woven in strips measuring about 4" wide, which are sewn together to make larger pieces of cloth called wrappers. Men generally wear one large wrapper, which is draped over the left shoulder, while women wear two somewhat smaller cloths as a skirt and bodice. Wrappers are also sometimes used as baby carriers.

The looms are horizontal treadle looms built on a portable wooden base. Because the looms are greatly respected, each day begins with songs of praise and gratitude for their presence.

Each woven pattern is unique and has its own name, often after the natural world, people, events, or proverbs. Weavers use colors and complex designs to portray the important meaning of the kente. For this reason, kente is a visual representation of the history, oral traditions, and moral values of the people.

Weaving requires tremendous energy, concentration, and skill. Fathers typically teach their sons to weave, so the tradition is passed from one generation to the next. Preparation of the thread is often handled by boys as young as five years old. Preparing the string for the warping process and threading the loom is a very tedious process. The heddles of the loom are controlled by the weaver’s big toes. It takes three to four weeks to weave a strip long enough for a man’s wrapper.

Originally kente was the domain of the royalty, worn by kings, queens, and other important figures in the Ashanti kingdom. Now ordinary people can wear kente and often do on special occasions. In this country, African-Americans frequently wear kente or kente-inspired designs as an expression of pride in their cultural heritage.



Did you know?

Many of the designs in kente cloth represent important cultural values. The colors used also carry significant meaning:

Egg yolks and vegetables

Royalty and spiritual vitality

Struggle and sacrifice

Vegetation, harvest, and growth


Lesson Plan: Create a Patterned Weaving in Paper