Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kente Cloth

It is a royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance. Kente was the cloth of kings. Over time, the use of kente became more widespread, however its importance has remained and it is held in high esteem in the Akan family and the entire country of Ghana.

The kente cloth is woven on a narrow horizontal loom. The loom usually uses four heddles (asanan), but in special cases, six or seven heddles (asasia) may be used. 

The cloth is woven in narrow strip (called ntomaban or bankuo) that is about 3-5 inches wide and about 5-6 feet long. Several strips are sewn together to make a wider piece of cloth for both men and women. A man's cloth may contain up to 24 strips and measure about 5x8 feet. The woman's two-piece cloth may contain 8-12 strips each piece. 

The largest known kente cloth, measuring about 12X20 feet, is the piece Ghana presented to the United Nations in 1960. This cloth is called tikoro nko agyina - one head does constitute a council.

The Asante weaver refers to kente as nwentoma (woven cloth) to distinguish it from the factory-made cloth (ntoma) and the adinkra cloth that is stamped (ntiamu ntoma) by the block-print technique. 

The nwentoma is of various categories: ahwepan (plain weave); topreko (plain weave with simple weft inlays); and faprenu (double weave technique that hides the warp threads). The term kente has its roots in the word kenten which means a basket. The first kente weavers used raffia fibers to weave cloths that looked like kenten (a basket); and thus were referred to as kenten ntoma; meaning basket cloth. The original Asante name of the cloth was nsaduaso or nwontoma, meaning "a cloth hand-woven on a loom" and is still used today by Asante weavers and elders. However, the term kente is the most popularly used today, in and outside Ghana. Many variations of narrow-strip cloths, similar to Kente are woven by various ethnic groups in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa.

The warp threads are laid in such fashion to give a name and meaning to the cloth. At the same time, the weft designs or motifs are each given a name and meaning. These names and meanings reflect Akan beliefs, historical events, social and political organization in the Akan society, or may be named after all manner of people.

The kente, like other Akan artworks, has been used to inscribe forms of political commentary.
In the 1960s Ghana became a founding member of the Non-Alignment Movement, a third rail to the then two world powers - the Soviet Bloc countries and the West led by the U. S. during the Cold War era.

A popular kente cloth, Fathia Fata Nkrumah (Fathia deserves Nkrumah) - was renamed Obaakofo Mmu man (One man does not rule a nation) as soon as Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup in 1966.

Kente cloth is worn by people of all social status. In the past certain designs were specifically made to be worn by the royals. In the early 19th century rising economic prosperity made it possible for non-royals to begin to demand for what were worn by the royals. There is one kente cloth called wonya wo ho a, wonye dehyee - you may be rich, but you are not of royal descent. Apparently this was worn by the royals to distinguish themselves from the nascent class of rich traders.

During his inauguration as President of Ghana in January 2001, Mr. J. A. Kufuor wore a kente cloth called Dako yesere - We will smile one day.

Samples of Kente cloth date back to the 11th century.

There are more than 300 types of cloth design patterns. Each design has a name and a meaning; weaving the designs with different colors affects the meanings.

black -- maturation, intensified spiritual energy
blue -- peacefulness, harmony and love
green -- vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
gold -- royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
grey -- healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
maroon -- the color of mother earth; associated with healing
pink -- assoc. with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
purple -- assoc. with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
red -- political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites
silver -- serenity, purity, joy; assoc. with the moon
white -- purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
yellow -- preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility

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