Kente History

Kente History

Kente Cloth has its origin with the Ashanti Kingdom, and was adopted by people in Ghana and many other West African countries. It is an Ashanti royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance and 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 with Akans.

Kente is predominantly made by the Ashanti people,(Bonwire,Adanwomase,Wonoo in the Kwabre areas of the Ashanti Region) and Akans (including the Brong, Ahafo and Fante). Kente is also produced by Akan groups in Ivory Coast, such as the Baoule and Anyi. Lastly, Kente is worn by many other groups who have been influenced by Akans. It is the best known of all African textiles. Kente comes from the word kenten, which means basket in Asante. Ashantis refer to kente as nwentoma, meaning woven cloth. The icon of African cultural heritage around the world, Asante kente is identified by its dazzling, multicolored patterns of bright colors, geometric shapes, and bold designs. Kente characterized by weft designs woven into every available block of plain weave is called adweneasa. The Asante people choose kente cloths as much for their names as their colors and patterns. Although the cloths are identified primarily by the patterns found in the lengthwise (warp) threads, there is often little correlation between appearance and name. Names are derived from several sources, including proverbs, historical events, important chiefs, queen mothers, and plants.

The Maroon people of Suriname in South America are the descendants of people who were brought from Africa as slaves after the mid-1600s and who escaped to live in the forests of the interior, eventually obtaining the right of self-government from the colonial powers.[1] The Pangi cloth made by the Maroons is a cotton fabric with multi-colored vertical and horizontal stripes, similar to West African kente cloth.
There is an art to wearing kente. To wear kente properly, it must be worn so that the woven patterned strips are straight horizontally and vertically. In addition, the bottom edge of the cloth should be even all the way around.

Meaning of Kente colors

Kente cloth, a silk and cotton fabric of bright colors and bold patterns, is prized by the Akan kings of Ghana, who wear it only on special occasions. Kente cloth is woven in strips, which are then stitched together to make ceremonial robes. Joining strips of material together is the signature technique used by the West African artist El Anatsui (1944-  ) to make his hanging sculptures, such as Old Cloth Series (cover). The components of Old Cloth Series are strips of wood that have been incised with grids, distressed with a chain saw, burned with an acetylene torch, sanded to remove the surface scorching, and then marked with symbols cut and painted into the squares of the grid. In a final step, the wooden strips are aligned so they resemble the folds of a weathered bolt of cloth. The art of El Anatsui is a contemporary take on the traditional forms of African art, and the grids, weathering, symbols, and burning of the sculpture offer a perspective on the role of western Africa in international trade.

How did this fabric (Kente) get from Ghana to you?

Kente cloth has history ranging back over 400 years. Legend has it that kente fabric was first made by two friends who went hunting in a forest and found a spider making its web. The friends stood and watched the spider for two days then returned home and implemented what they had seen.

Agyemang Prempeh

Originally made from white cotton with some indigo patterns, the making of Kente patterns changed radically when in the seventeenth century when Portuguese traders began to bring silk into Africa. The silk fabrics were pulled apart, at first, to use the silk thread in their fabrics until eventually whole skeins of silk thread began to make their way to Africa and the art of Kente took off.

Kente cloth is produced by the Akan people. It is a royal and sacred cloth originally worn only in times of extreme importance. Kente was the cloth of kings. Even today, when a new design is created , it must first be offered to the royal house. If the king declines to take it, it can then be sold to the public. Designs worn by Asante royalty may not be worn by anyone else. Over time, the use of kente fabric 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. Kente may be used as a special gift item during such ceremonies as child naming, graduation, or marriage. It may also be used as a symbol of respect for the departed during funerals and ancestral remembrance ceremonies.
In Ghana, kente cloth is made by the Akan people (including the Asante, Bono, Fante and Nzema). Kente fabric is also produced by Akan groups in Cote d’Ivoire, like the Baoule and Anyin, who trace their ancestry back to Ghana before the rise of the Ashanti Empire. It is the best known of all African textiles. Kente comes from the word kenten, which means “basket”. The very first Kente weavers used raffia, or palm leaf fibers, and wove them into a cloth that looked like a basket. The Asante peoples refer to kente cloth as Nwentoma or “woven cloth”.
The icon of African cultural heritage around the world, Asante kente fabric is identified by its dazzling, multicolored patterns of bright colors, geometric shapes and bold designs. Kente cloth characterized by weft designs woven into every available block of plain weave is called adweneasa. The Asante peoples of Ghana choose kente cloths as much for their names as their colors and patterns. Although the cloths are identified primarily by the patterns found in the lengthwise threads, there is often little correlation between appearance and name. Names are derived from several sources, including proverbs, historical events, important chiefs, queen mothers, and plants.


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