Kente cloth is more than eye-catching fabric with riveting designs; it is a nonverbal language, a system of symbols woven into fabric by skilled artisans from Ghana.
Imagine the political figures of a nation assembling to vote by caucus without a single action or spoken word, and knowing what the vote is by the woven symbols of their dress. That is the power of kente, and one of the many ways Ghanaians have cleverly used it.
What is the symbolic meaning of kente cloth patterns?
Weavers are inspired by many sources to name their cloths or design new symbols: oral literature, philosophical concepts, historical events, important kings and queens, plants, proverbs, and even from social norms and etiquette. The aesthetic design of kente cloth is determined by the colors and their significance. Colors are chosen for both their symbolic meanings and visual impact.
How is kente cloth made?
A finished kente pattern is the product of meticulous weaving and plenty of time. The first step sees silk and cotton bands produced on a horizontal strip loom, measuring about four inches wide. Once prepared, several of these strips are carefully selected by their color and arranged into a pattern, then hand sewn with tight knots to ensure the multiple bands of cloth become one. Depending on the design, six yards of kente cloth can take one month to make.
In Ghana, kente textiles are permitted to be made by trained weavers only. A professional weaver studies the artistry of kente design for five years before being entrusted to produce one alone.
What are the origins of kente cloth?
In the past, kente was reserved only for the Asante royals and aristocrats, and limited to special social and sacred functions. While kente has become more accessible in recent years to those outside the royal court, it continues to be associated with wealth, high social status, and cultural sophistication.
Traditionally, kente is a cloth that is preserved and a treasured family heirloom that is passed down through the generations. It is a valuable item that the Asantes call Agyapadie (inheritable property).
The Significance of Color in Kente
Like kente patterns, the colors used in kente cloth have their own distinguishable meanings.
Black: Maturity; The spirits of the ancestors
Blue: Peace and togetherness; Love and harmony
Gold: Royalty, wealth, and spiritual purity
Green: Land, crops, vegetation, harvest, growth, spiritual growth, and renewal
Grey: Healing and cleansing rituals
Maroon: Mother Earth, Healing
Pink: Femininity; Mildness
Purple: Earth, healing, and femininity
Red: Blood; Strong political and spiritual feelings
Silver: Peace and joy; The moon
White: Purity, healing, and festive occasions
Yellow: Royalty, wealth, holiness; All that is precious