Any tourist who visits Ghana should not miss seeing the beautiful traditional Ghanaian fabric associated with the Ashanti and Ewe peoples This fabric is called kente and has intricate designs, styles and very bright colours. It is considered to be an authentic part of Ghanaian cultural heritage, and has been threatened recently by mass-produced inauthentic copies made in Asia.
It is believed that the origin of kente weaving can be traced to West African societies between 300 AD to 1600 AD. There are over 45 patterns of kente, and weavers name their kente based on moral values, animal life, oral literature, proverbs, and philosophical concepts. Bonwire, a town in Kumasi, Ghana, is famous for its kente weaving. Certain colours have symbolic meanings: gold for royalty, green for life, red for mourning, and blue for peace.
Kente fabric is a handwoven craft and requires a lot of skill, creativity and dedication.
Weaver making kente
Among the Ashantis, kente is held in very high esteem and is used in all the traditional festivities including naming and marriage ceremonies, as well as festivals. During national celebrations and important cultural events, it is common to see chiefs, politicians, performers and spectators dressed in kente clothing.
Chief Nana Akyanfuo Akowuah Dateh II wearing kente in Kumase, Ghana (1970). Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, part of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art
Wearing kenete is also an art in itself. Men tend to wrap the fabric over one shoulder whereas most women wear it in the form of dress in the “kaba and slit” (long skirt and top) style.
Women showcasing some kente designs
Even Ghanaians without any affinity to the Ashantis or Ewes wear kente for special and exclusive events. Kente designs have also moved to fashion accessories such as bags, hats, ties, and bangles, Additionally, kente has become an important African cultural icon globally. Exhibitions on kente have been organized in the United States of America to celebrate African and African-American history and cultural heritage. One such exhibition was called Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity and was organized by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and the Newark Museum.
However, inauthentic versions of kente, often made of polyester, have flooded the Ghanaian market. The designs of original kente patterns are copied and mass-produced in Asian factories. These cheap copies have devalued authentic kente fabric and there is a risk that it might lose its special cultural significance.