Kente cloth is one of the most recognized African fabrics. The word “kente” means basket, and the cloth got its name because of the similarity in appearance of a woven basket.
Kente cloth originated with the Ashanti people of Ghana. Legend has it that two men from the village of Bonwire went hunting and encountered a spider spinning a web. They were amazed by the beauty of the web and thought they could recreate it.
When they returned to the village, they wove cloth using the black and white fibers from a raffia tree. They presented the cloth to Asantehene Nana Osei Tutu, the first ruler of the Asante kingdom. The asantehene welcomed the cloth and declared it a royal cloth to be used on special social and sacred occasions.
A feature of kente cloth is the use of vibrant colors. Each color has a specific meaning and they are described as follows:
• Red – political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites
• Blue – peacefulness, love, harmony
• Green – vegetation, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
• Gold – royalty, wealth, prosperity, high status, glory
• Black – maturation, spiritual energy
• White – purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
• Grey – healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
• Yellow – preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility
• Maroon – the color of mother earth; associated with healing
• Pink – femininity; a mild, gentle aspect of red
• Purple – associated with feminine aspects of life
• Silver – serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon
The use of kente cloth has evolved over the years. Although it is no longer the exclusive domain of Asante royalty, it continues to symbolize wealth and cultural sophistication and is worn by people of all segments of society.