Textile (kente)

CULTURE:
Asante peoples
DATE:
c. 1925
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General Description

Kente from Ghana is undoubtedly the best-known African textile in the world. Adopted by Americans, especially African Americans, kente gained worldwide attention in 1957 when Kwame Nkrumah, then president of Ghana, the first independent country in sub-Saharan Africa, wore it for his official portraits during an official visit to the United States. Kente cloth subsequently became a symbol of pan-African identity and a symbol of Black Pride. A half century later, handwoven kente remains a successful export product that is used as-is or to make Western style clothing and accessories.

Kente has probably been woven in Ghana since at least the 16th century, when cotton yarns dyed with natural indigo were used. Silk kente dates from about the 18th century, as indicated by the first published account by a Danish factor to the court of King Opoku Ware I. The factor reported that the African weavers unraveled imported taffeta cloth to obtain the silk threads, which they wove into cloth. Kente is woven in narrow strips on horizontal double-heddle looms; and the most complex and intricate patterns require a third set of heddles. There are over three hundred warp and weft patterns, each of which has a name derived from the names of kings and queen mothers, the natural world, or things in the local environment. The name of this cloth is a version of the Oyokoman Adweneasa pattern. The Oyokoman Adweneasa cloth has an important and more complex history than most other Asante weaves, and may be among the first and most elite of all cloths. According to Asante oral tradition, it was the first pattern created by Otakraban upon his return to Bonwire from Gyaman where he was inspired by his observation of a spider weaving an intricate web design. It takes its name from the Oyoko clan; and Adweneasa is a weaving term that refers to weft designs on the cloth. In such cloths, the weaver fills every available area of plain weave with some version of a weft design. Notice that on this cloth, almost all of the red, gold/yellow, and green warp stripes are hidden by the designs floating on the weft.

Among the Asante, kente is a prestigious cloth that has traditionally been worn by kings and chiefs. The king, who reserves certain kente designs for himself, can grant the privilege to others. Kings wear kente made of silk, rayon, or cotton on state occasions, are transported to the events in kente-covered palanquins, and shielded from the sun under giant umbrellas decorated with kente accents. Asante kings are traditionally buried in this prestigious cloth.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 294-295.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2006.

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