Kente Cloth produced by the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana has been valued by its creators for centuries and holds great cultural significance. In recent years the material has been used to create new products that can be sold to a larger number of consumers. The cloth is of economic importance, but is of particular importance to communities who know the history of the object and know its symbolic qualities.
WHAT IS ITS APPEARANCE?
Kente cloth is weaved from a combination of cotton and wool. Horizontal and vertical lines are arranged during weaving to form a consistent pattern of colourful squares that covers the cloth. Each cloth has a particular pattern and colour.
WHAT IS ITS CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE?
Kente Cloth is culturally important to the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana for slightly different reasons. In both cases, each cloth is uniquely named and uniquely patterned. These patterns and names carry specific meanings that are inspired by everything from individual experiences to moral values. Kente cloth fits with long established traditions.
For the Asante people, Kente cloth is linked to a local legend. The tale goes roughly as follows: Two young men learned the art of weaving by observing a spider creating its web. The spider agreed to teach them to weave with a single thread in return for a few favours, which they willingly completed. One of the young men later becomes the leading Kente weaver for the royals of his kingdom after word spread of his newly-acquired skill.
Kente cloth weaved by the Ewe people has a wider variety in patterns. Rather than belonging to royal tradition, the Kente cloth in this way relates more to the experiences of daily life.
Parts of the loom on which Kente cloth is woven are also regarded to have symbolic significance.
HOW ARE THEY USED TODAY?
Whilst Kente cloth was once limited to Asante royalty and to certain social and sacred function, its uses are being re-adapted. The cloth is still associated with wealth, status and cultural heritage and is found in shrines. However, the cloth is being made into bags and other products for a wider range of purposes. Sometimes the cloth is hand-woven, or machine-printed, rather than woven on a loom. These products are sold or traded for economic gain.
Objects can have multiple functions. They can be valued for different reasons. However, remembering their cultural heritage can help us to appreciate the extent of their value.