Kente – a royal cloth from Ghana in West Africa
Kente is a Ghanaian textile, made of interwoven silk and cotton cloth strips.
Originally, the use of Kente was reserved for Asante royalty and limited to special social and sacred functions.
Even as production increased and Kente became more accessible to those outside the royal court, it continued to be associated with wealth, high social status, and cultural sophistication.
Historically, the cloth was worn by the Ashanti and Ewe (modern Ghana) royalty and made in the Akan Land, such as the Ashanti Kingdom.
Historians maintain that Kente cloth grew out of various weaving traditions that existed in West Africa prior to the formation of the Asante Kingdom. These techniques were appropriated through vast trade networks, as were materials such as French and Italian silk, which became increasingly desired in the 18th century and were combined with cotton and wool to make Kente.
Kente cloth is also worn by the Ewe people, who were under the rule of the Asante kingdom in the late 18th century. It is believed that the Ewe, who had a previous tradition of horizontal loom weaving, adopted the style of kente cloth production from the Asante—with some important differences. Since the Ewe were not centralized, Kente was not limited to use by royalty, though the cloth was still associated with prestige and special occasions.
A greater variety in the patterns and functions exist in Ewe kente, and the symbolism of the patterns often has more to do with daily life than with social standing or wealth.
Patterns each have a name, as does each cloth in its entirety.
However, the popularity of this cloth spread across borders, and Kente is synonymous with special occasions.
The word Kente (“KEN-tay”) means a basket in the Akan and Ashanti languages. The cloth gets this name because of the weaving method and the patterns; it resembles a basket.
The sun-drenched splashes and bursts of Kente print are a ubiquitous sight of any commencement ceremony today.
When Black students wear Kente stoles as a sign of their successful matriculation through higher education, they transform their bodies into living, breathing proverbs.
Every aspect of kente'ss aesthetic design is intended as communication. The colors of the cloth each hold symbolism: gold = status/serenity,
yellow = fertility,
green = renewal,
blue = pure spirit/harmony,
red = passion,
black = union with ancestors/spiritual awareness.