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Kente cloth, known locally as nwentoma, is a type of fabric made of interwoven woven cloth strips and is native to Ghana, where it was first developed in the 12th century. Each kente design is unique and has a given name and meaning.

Asante chief dressed in kente cloth

Paramount chief Nana Akyanfuo Akowuah Dateh II in Kumasi, Ghana. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art.

Kente weaving

Here are some examples of kente patterns.

Pattern Description

Asasia Puduo

Puduo or kuduo, are cast brass vessels used in rites to sustain the family. Early examples of these vessels had small pyramids on their lids, and this might explain the pyramidal shape of the puduo design. Asasia, the most elaborate kente cloths, were reserved for the Asantehene (King) alone.

Kyemfere (Potsherd)

Symbol of experience, knowledge, service, antiquity, time, heirloom and rarity. From the proverb: Kyemfere se odaa ho akye, na onipa a onwene no nso nye den? Literal translation: The potsherd claims it has been around from time immemorial; what about the potter who molded it?

Obaakofo mmu oman (One person does not rule a nation)

Fathia fata Nkrumah (Fathia deserves Nkrumah)

Symbol of marital relationships, unity, participatory democracy... and also a warning against dictatorial rule.

This cloth commemorates the marriage between Kwame Nkrumah and Fathia of Egypt. Nkrumah was the first Prime Minister and President of contemporary Ghana. As he sought to promote continental African Unity, he married an Egyptian as a gesture of his desire to unite Arab North Africa and black sub-Saharan Africa. The marriage was not only between two individuals, but was also a marriage between nations.

When Nkrumah's government was overthrown by the military in 1966, the cloth's name was changed back to its original name of Obaakofo mmu oman - one person does not rule a nation as a metaphorical comment on his dictatorial rule. As Nkrumah's legacy is being rehabilitated, it is now more popular to hear people refer to the cloth as Fathia fata Nkrumah.

Sika Futoro (Gold Dust)

Alludes to the pre-colonial use of gold dust as a currency and hence to the wealth and prestige of the wearer of this fabric.

Apremo (Cannon)

Symbol of resistance against foreign domination, superior military strategy.

This motif represents the superior military strategy with which Akan nations such as the Asante and Akwamu defeated the Europeans who had superior arms. An Asantehene is said to have remarked: "The white man brought his cannon to the bush but the bush was stronger than the cannon."

Kente is an Asante ceremonial cloth hand-woven on a horizontal treadle loom. Strips measuring about 4 inches wide are sewn together into larger pieces of cloths. Cloths come in various colors, sizes and designs and are worn during very important social and religious occasions. In a total cultural context, kente is more important than just a cloth.

It is a visual representation of history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles.

The term kente has its roots in the word kenten which means "basket". The first kente weavers used raffia fibers to weave cloths that looked like kenten and thus were referred to as kenten ntoma; meaning "basket cloth".

The original Asante name of the cloth was nsaduaso or nwontoma meaning "a cloth hand-woven on a loom" and is still used today by Asante weavers and elders. However, the term kente is the most popularly used today, in and outside Ghana. Many variations of narrow-strip cloths, similar to kente are woven by various ethnic groups in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa.

Traditionally, kente is mainly woven by the Asante and the Ewe tribes of Ghana. The Asante kente is woven in villages just outside Kumasi in the area around Bonwire and Ntonso. Kente is also woven by the Ewe in the Volta Region around Kpetoe, Denu, Wheta and Agbozume.

Please visit the following web pages to see more kente samples and learn more about kente.

Akan Kente Cloths
Akan Kente Cloths and Motifs
Video: Kente Weavers of Asante

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