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Friday, March 24, 2023

History of Kente


What is Kente?

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.


Different Kente type (part 1)

Kente Adwinasa


Means “all motifs are used up” The elders say, 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 realised that he had exhausted all the repertoire of motifs known to Asante weavers. The cloth was, therefore viewed as one of 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. Adwinasa kente symbolizes royalty, elegance, creative ingenuity, excellence, wealth, perfection and superior craftsmanship.

Obaakofo Mmu Man

This means, “One person does not rule a nation.” It manifest’s 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 Nkrumah. “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. Obaakofo Mmu Man kente signifies participatory democracy and warning against autocratic rule.

Sika Futoro

Literally means “gold dust.” Before the use of coins and paper as money, gold dust, was used as a medium of exchange among the Akan people and was therefore considered as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The predominant use of intricately textured patterns in yellow, orange and red replicate the visual characteristics of gold dust. The Sika Futoro cloth symbolizes wealth, royalty, elegance, spiritual purity and honorable achievement.

“God’s eye brow (the rainbow).” It was created in exaltation of the beauty and mystery of the rainbow phenomenon. The arrangement of warp threads mimics the visual characteristics of the rainbow. This cloth symbolizes divine beauty, gracefulness, divine creativity, uniqueness and good omen.

Abusua Ye Dom
Means, “The extended family is a force.” Within the Akan people, the extended family is the foundation of their society. Like a military force, members of the family are collectively responsible for the material and spiritual well being, the physical protection and the social security of all its members. The cloth was designed to celebrate and reinforce such positive attributes of the extended family system. In its many variations and background colors the Abusua Ye Dom cloth represents a strong family bond, the value of family unity, collective work, responsibility and co-operation.


Emaa Da
Emaa Da means, “it has not happened before” or “it has no precedence.” According to Nana Kwasi Afranie of Bonwire, the Asantehene’s chief weaver, the cloth was designed and so named by one of the Asante Kings who was so awed by the uniqueness of the pattern that he remarked “Eyi de emmaa da” meaning, “this one has no precedence.” The cloth was therefore reserved for the exclusive use of the King, but its use was later extended to people of high ranks. It is a symbol of creative ingenuity, innovation, uniqueness, perfection and exceptional achievement.

Toku Kra Toma
Precisely “Toku’s soul cloth”. The cloth is designed and named to commemorate the soul of a warrior Queen mother named Toku, who though was defeated and executed in a battle with Nana Opoku Ware I, the King of the Asante kingdom (1731-1742), was viewed as a courageous woman. It commemorates the historic event and honors the soul of the Queen mother for her bravery. In the past, such a
cloth would only be worn by the royalty and people of high rank during very sacred ceremonies in which the spirits of the ancestors are venerated. The cloth signifies courageous leadership, heroic deeds, self-sacrifice, spiritual vitality and rebirth.

Wofro Dua Pa A Na Yepia Wo
“One who climbs a tree worth climbing gets the help deserved.” 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 labour. It is a notion that reinforces the importance of aspiring towards a worthy course. Symbolizes aspiration, hope, mutual benefits, sharing and noble deeds.

“The leopard catcher.” The cloth was designed to commemorate an incident during the reign of King Kwaku Dua (1838 -1867) who tested the courage of his warriors by ordering them to catch a leopard alive. The appellation, “Kyerekwie” was since appended to the names of some of the Asante Kings whose bravery and leadership qualities were comparable to the courage needed to catch a leopard alive. The black vertical warp stripes represent the black sports in a leopard’s fur. In the past, the cloth was worn only by the Asantehene or by other chiefs with his permission. The Kyeretwie cloth is a representation of courage, valor, exceptional achievement and inspiring leadership.

Literally means “thousands shields.” This is a reference to shields used by highly well organized militia consisting of thousands of men and women who defended the Asante Kingdom against external aggression. According to the military strategy of the Asante Kingdom, the chief of the shield bearers, the Akyempemhene, and the rear guards of the King are his own sons. Shields once used as military weapons are now used in royal ceremonies to symbolize and commemorate the military prowess of the Asante Kingdom. The cloth symbolizes military prowess, unity through military strength, bravery, political vigilance and spiritual defensiveness.


“God’s eye brow (the rainbow).” It was created in exaltation of the beauty and mystery of the rainbow phenomenon. The arrangement of warp threads mimics the visual characteristics of the rainbow. This cloth symbolizes divine beauty, gracefulness, divine creativity, uniqueness and good omen.



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