The Ashanti of Ghana and Their Kente
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.
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
Plan: Create a Patterned Weaving