Reading 36

The following passage is adapted from an article titled “Threads of Imagination” by Tom Stable (© 1998 by Tom Stable).

  1. Kente, the traditional fabric
  2. of Ghana’s Asante people has
  3. evolved into a symbol of
  4. many meanings – political
  5. and cultural, African and
  6. American, honorary and
  7. everyday. “What is called
  8. kente is many things,” says
  9. Doran H. Ross, director of
  10. the Fowler Museum of
  11. Cultural History, though he
  12. notes its origin is Ghana’s
  13. strip-woven cloth. But Ross
  14. says kente appears just as
  15. widely today in Western-
  16. style tailored clothing and
  17. in other ways that make it
  18. the most recognizably
  19. African textile.
  20. Kente is much more than
  21. just a beautiful piece of cloth.
  22. Textiles can reflect the
  23. accumulated knowledge of a
  24. society or the status of
  25. members of the society.
  26. Kente is a reflection of the
  27. religious, political, and social
  28. values of Asante society.
  29. Commissioned by the kings
  30. of the Asante peoples of
  31. south central Ghana in the
  32. late seventeenth century –
  33. who wanted to create a rich
  34. official regalia – the kente-
  35. weaving developed roots in
  36. the Asante village of Bonwire,
  37. which today remains its
  38. undisputed home. For
  39. centuries since, the Asante
  40. have worn kente as a
  41. garment of celebration to
  42. commemorate the
  43. importance of an event or
  44. time of year, donning it as
  45. toga-style robes for men
  46. or as skirts, tops, and
  47. headdresses for women.
  48. Kente is special by design;
  49. making even one narrow
  50. strip requires considerable
  51. effort. Never mind the
  52. complexity of constructing
  53. the wooden loom itself –
  54. which a neighboring Asante
  55. village has adopted as its
  56. own specialty – or the years
  57. of training and practice that
  58. weaving apprentices must
  59. log to properly operate the
  60. mechanism. Using mainly
  61. silk, the weavers work on
  62. strips that are generally
  63. three to four inches wide
  64. and seven to ten feet long,
  65. with the shorter pieces
  66. meant for women’s garments
  67. (eight to ten strips) and the
  68. longer ones for men (twenty
  69. to twenty-five strips). The
  70. completed strips are sewn
  71. together by hand – or
  72. sometimes today by machine
  73. – to create the robes or other
  74. garments and products using
  75. kente.
  76. The length of time it takes to
  77. complete one strip varies by
  78. the complexity of the chosen
  79. pattern, which can distinguish
  80. itself by the number of
  81. horizontal versus vertical
  82. patterns. The simplest strip
  83. uses mostly vertical, or “warp”
  84. patterns with just a touch of
  85. horizontal, or “weft” patterns,
  86. and an experienced weaver
  87. can make several of those in
  88. one day. But a “single-pick”
  89. strip brings more complexity:
  90. more weft and fewer warp
  91. patterns. A “double-pick,”
  92. with nearly all weft patterns,
  93. and the warp pattern hardly
  94. visible, requires the most work
  95. of all, and can take up to four
  96. days to complete an individual
  97. strip.
  98. On a technical level, Asante
  99. kente-weaving does not depart
  100. significantly from other West
  101. African weaving traditions,
  102. including cloths made by the
  103. E’we people. But Asante kente
  104. patterns have distinguished
  105. themselves in other ways—
  106. their appearance, their
  107. cultural significance, and their
  108. quick spread in popularity
  109. around the world. The
  110. enthusiastic use of color and
  111. intricate work of its patterns
  112. has made kente a recognizable
  113. symbol, but the colors each
  114. have their own meanings in
  115. Asante culture. Green is fertility
  116. and new harvest, gold is royalty,
  117. black is aging and spirituality,
  118. white is purity.
  119. The patterns, meanwhile, are
  120. far from haphazard. To mark
  121. the significance of the choices,
  122. the weaver names the pattern,
  123. adding another level of import
  124. to the kente tradition, because
  125. the names often honor people,
  126. historical events, or cherished
  127. Asante proverbs.
  128. One prominent pattern is
  129. Oyokoman, which uses the red,
  130. gold and green colors that the
  131. Asante kings chose for their
  132. garments. Another is Abusa Ye
  133. Dom, which celebrates “positive
  134. attributes of the extended
  135. family system,” according to the
  136. writings of Howard University
  137. professor Kwaku Ofori Ansa,
  138. who has published his research
  139. on the meanings of patterns in
  140. both books and on the Internet.
  141. “In its many variations and
  142. background colors, Abusa Ye
  143. Dom symbolizes strong family
  144. bond, the value of family unity,
  145. collective work, and
  146. responsibility.”