Weaved fabrics in Africa
Africa has numerous woven fabrics. We find for example:
- the Asoke fabric in Nigeria,
- the Manjak fabric in Senegal ,
- the Faso dan fani from Burkina Faso
- the Kuba textile in Congo DRC (Kasai region)
- The Kente from Ghana
Today’s post will be about the kente fabric from Ghana. The kente fabric is famous for its colours and symbolism.
Kente weaving has it roots in a long tradition of weaving in Africa dating back to at least 3000 B.C. It is said the art was inspired by observing spiders weaving techniques. Weaving was very popular in ancient West African kingdoms and empires of Ghana, Mali, Soghai.
Traditional significance of Kente
Kente is more than just a cloth. Like most of Africa’s visual art forms, Kente is a visual representation of history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, religious belief, social values and political thought.
Kente is used not only for its beauty but also for its symbolic significance. Each cloth has a name and a meaning. There are over 300 different types of cloth designs, each with its name. Each cloth design comes with numerous variations-in colour and distribution of motifs.
According to Akan traditional protocol, Kente is reserved for very important and special social or religious occasions. Originally, it was not meant to be used for commonplace daily activities or as an ordinary wear. Its use for making clothing accessories was limited to items deemed scared or special and were used only for special occasions. In many cases the use of Kente has a sacred intent.
Colour significance of kente
Colour symbolism within the Akan culture affects the aesthetics of Kente. Colours are chosen for both their visual effect and their symbolic meanings.
- YELLOW is associated with the yoke of the egg, ripe and edible fruits and vegetables and also with the mineral gold. It symbolizes sanctity, preciousness, royalty, wealth, spirituality, vitality and fertility.
- PINK is associated with the female essence of life. It is viewed as red rendered mild and gentle, and therefore associated with tenderness, calmness, pleasantness, and sweetness.
- RED is associated with blood, sacrificial rites and the shedding of blood. Red-eyed mood means a sense of seriousness, readiness for a serious spiritual or political encounter. Red is therefore used as a symbol of heightened spiritual and political mood, sacrifice and struggle.
- BLUE is associated with the blue sky, the abode of the Supreme Creator. it is therefore used in a variety of ways to symbolize spiritual sanctity, good fortune, peacefulness, harmony and love related ideas.
- GREEN is associated with vegetation, planting, harvesting and herbal medicine. Tender green leaves are usually used to sprinkle water during purification rituals. It symbolizes growth, vitality, fertility, prosperity, fruitfulness, abundant health and spiritual rejuvenation.
- PURPLE is viewed in the same way as maroon. It is considered as earth associated with color used in rituals and healing purposes. It is also associated color used in rituals and healing purposes. It is also associated with feminine aspects of life. Purple cloths are mostly worn by females.
- MAROON has a close resemblance to red-brown which is associated with the color of Mother Earth. Red-brown is usually obtained from clay and is therefore associated with healing and the power to repel malevolent spirits.
- WHITE derives its symbolism from the white part of the egg and from white clay used in spiritual purification, healing, sanctification rites and festive occasions. In some situations it symbolizes contact with ancestral spirits, deities and other unknown spiritual entities such as ghosts. it is used in combination with black, green or yellow to express notion, spirituality, vitality and balance.
- GREY derives its symbolism from ash. Ash is used for healing and spiritual cleansing rituals to re-create spiritual balance when spiritual blemish has occurred. It is also used in rituals for protection against malevolent spirits. Grey is therefore associated with spiritual blemish but also with spiritual cleansing.
- SILVER is associated with the moon which represents the female essence of life. Silver ornaments are usually worn by women and are used in the context of spiritual purification, naming ceremonies, marriage ceremonies and other community festivals. it symbolizes serenity, purity and joy.
- GOLD derives its significance from the commercial value and social prestige associated with the precious mineral. Gold dust and gold nuggets were used as medium of exchange and for making valuable royal ornaments. It symbolizes royalty, wealth, elegance, high status, supreme quality, glory and spiritual purity.
- BLACK derives its significance from the notion that new things get darker as they mature; and physical aging comes with spiritual maturity. The Akans blacken most of their ritual objects to increase their spiritual potency. Black symbolizes an intensified spiritual energy, communion with the ancestral spirits, antiquity, spiritual maturity and spiritual potency.
Shapes significance in kente fabrics
Shapes used have a powerful meaning too.
- SQUARE: is the symbol of the earth and cosmos, with its four sides marking the junction between these two entities. It is associated with femininity, because the woman gives life (creation – procreation). This shape is very common in the kente as a reminder that the Akan society is matrilineal.
- TRIANGLE: with its three sides, represents life and family. The base symbolizes the birth (of the world) and existence (realization of self, and one’s destiny). The summitmarks both death (physical) and spiritual elevation. The three sides represent theunion of masculine and feminine principles that combine to give a third principle, like the father and the mother who give birth to the child or as the intellect and the heart which give birth to will-power. The triangle in essence, simply represents completeness; it represents a man’s life.
- DIAMOND: is two triangles upside down. Often present on kente worn by kings during big ceremonies, it symbolizes the existential duality of the monarch: as a chief (the bottom triangle), and as a human (the top triangle). These two are linked, meaning that both destinies as king and man are linked: all his acts as man and king, work for his prestige and that of the royal institution.
- CIRCLE: represents the infinite, with neither beginning nor end. It is analogous to power as the concept of infinity, just as eternal royalty, whose origins are often lost in the midst of time. The full circle represents the universe, the community of men. This figure of divine essence is found on almost all kente worn during the enthronement of the king to remind all of his divine character.
- CROSS: brings back to the motion of the water and fire, but mostly to the four cardinal points. When one extends one’s arms, it symbolizes the vital force, the breath of life, and an existential landmark. The cross is found in different shapes on the kente, but also on another Akan cloth, the adinkra.
A few famous kente designs
Literally means “all motifs are used up.”
According to the elders, the designer of this cloth, attempted to weave a unique cloth to please the Asantehene. In his effort he used all the motifs then known to weavers in weaving one cloth. In the end he remarked that he had exhausted all the repertoire of motifs known to Asante weavers. The cloth was, therefore viewed as one of the top quality, and the most prestigious of kente cloths, besides those woven exclusively for Asante Kings. It was in the past, worn by kings and people of high status and wealth.
It symbolizes ROYALTY, ELEGANCE, CREATIVE INGENUITY, EXCELLENCE, WEALTH, PERFECTION and SUPERIOR CRAFTSMANSHIP.
OBAAKOFO MMU MAN
Literally means “one person does not rule a nation.”
It expresses the Akan system of governance based on participatory democracy. The nine squares represent MPUANKRON (nine tufts of hair) a ceremonial hair cut of some royal functionaries who help rulers make decisions. Originally the cloth was named FATHIA FATA NKRUMA. “Fathia is a suitable wife for Nkrumah.” After the military overthrow of Nkrumah, the original significance of MPUANKRON (participatory democracy) was applied to reflect the prevailing political atmosphere.
The cloth symbolizes PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY and WARNING AGAINST AUTOCRATIC RULE
We particularly like this kente cloth because it reveals clearly the African origin of participatory democracy.
WOFRO DUA PA A NA YEPIA WO
Literally means “one who climbs a tree worth climbing gets the help deserved.” We were very happy to stumble on this cloth design because it is intimily linked to our values and business goals. Our logo is inspired by an adinkra, akan symbol meaning exactly the same thing. We will do a development on the adinkra at some point.
The cloth was designed to express the Akan social thought which maintains that any good individual effort deserves to be supported by the community. When one climbs a good tree that has fruits on it, people around will give him a push, since they know they will enjoy the fruits of his labor.
It is a notion that reinforces the importance of aspiring towards a worthy course.
Symbolizes ASPIRATION, HOPE, MUTUAL BENEFITS, SHARING and NOBLE DEEDS.
To know more about about fabrics visit this page: http://satgeo.zum.de/infoschul/information/Navrongo/kemet/kente.htm
Some fashion clothes using Kente:
Mayasi sells also clothing with kente. See for example the Jacket by Asaawa.
As authorshipp orthodoxy obliges, here a few sources we have used. I hope you have enjoyed a good read! Give us your comments and please share around as everybody needs to know more about African fabrics.
- Mid West Trade Group: http://kente.midwesttradegroup.com