Of all the African textiles, Kente (“KEN-tay”) is arguably the best known and most renowned of all cloths. It is most popularly Known as the icon of African heritage around the globe and can be defined by it’s bold designs, bright colors, multi colored patterns and dazzling shapes.
Kente made from African silk comes from the Ashanti (Akan) word (Kenten) which means basket, because it features a woven look as that of a woven basket and is also inspired by a spiders web. Kente dates back 375 years ago and originated in the Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana and was solely intended to be worn only by the kings, Queens and the chiefs. The royals would notably wear their bright colored Kente cloth to festivals and other important engagements. However over time Kente found it’s way among the Ivory coast and many other West African countries.
Something that most people may not know is that the many geometric patterns featured on the Kente cloth each have specific meanings relating to the history or beliefs of the Ashanti people. Each pattern & design although colorful and rich on the outside is meant to say something about heritage, family, and culture. The designs and color combinations help portray a number of different concepts, such as democratic rule, creativity, life experience of the wearer, religious philosophies and family lines. Kente fabrics thus are not just a way of making a statement about today, but also are a valuable way of maintaining continuity with the collected wisdom of the past, both from personal experience and community experience and history.
Here are some meanings to the colors used within the Kente:
Black — Maturity, intensified spiritual energy
Blue — Peacefulness, harmony and love
Green — Vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
Gold — Royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
Grey — Healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
Maroon — The color of mother earth; associated with healing
Pink — Associated with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
Purple — Assoc. with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
Red — Political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death
Silver — Serenity, purity, joy; assoc. with the moon
White — Purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
Yellow — Preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility
Here are some of the Kente Patterns described:
(Niata – Two-edged sword)
(Ohene Anewa – The king’s eye, The king sees everything)
(Nkyimkyim – Zigzag, Life is not a straight path)
(Afa – I have taken it)
With the evolution of Kente since it was first produced, people around the world are beginning to embrace it; from presidents, to celebrities and more. Kente cloth is now infused on the fashion runways of Paris, Milan, New York and more in the form of dresses, shoes, shirts, pants, bags, accessories and so much more.
More than ever Kente cloth, whether it is faux kente or the Kente-Cloth; it has seen it’s rise in pop culture and can be seen worn on a bevy of celebrities.
Notable People & Celebrities in Kente cloth as well as recent mainstream Kente fashion designs below:
(Former U.S President Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary Clinton sporting their Kente cloth in 1998 on their visit to Ghana. They are standing by Ghana’s former president Jerry Rawlings at Accra’s Independence Square)
(Solange Knowles rocks some Kente before a red carpet appearance)
(Singer Elle Varner is bold in her colorful and bright Kente)
(An Adidas Kente designed sneaker shoe by designer Jeremy Scott)
Kente worn by a royal Below:
(Regal Kente worn in 1930 by Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II as he sits on his golden stool)
There has definitely been many changes to the Kente cloth itself over the past few centuries. In early years, all of the thread used to produce Kente was made from silk. Today, cloth is made from rayon, cotton, and silk, making it affordable for a greater number of people. New patterns with new meanings are constantly being designed, but many of the original patterns are still used in weaving. Although the use of Kente has become more widespread, its importance has remained and it is held in high esteem with Akans.
The particular place where Kente was conceived within the Ashanti Kingdom known as Bonwire; till this day is the most famous center for the Kente cloth weaving.
Click here for more selections of Kente Designs and Fabrics.
[Photo Credit] Circa, McNamee Reuters, Elle Varner, Solange Knowles, Jeremy Scott