What is the purpose of Kente cloth?
The tradition of the Kente cloth dates back almost 400 years, from what is now present-day Ghana, Africa. According to legend, two men from the Bonwire village encountered and admired a beautiful pattern woven into a spider’s web, inspiring a technique of weaving similarly intricate patterns into fabric. This was shared with the King, and while initially a symbol of royalty, over time Kente was worn throughout the kingdom and brought to the world on trade routes.
Each unique shape, pattern and color woven into Kente cloth carries a specific meaning, such as a story, anecdote, or theme. To the people of Ghana, wearing Kente may represent their clan or a specific set of values. In a broader scope, Kente represents the culture and history of the region, where it’s woven into clothing, bags, and tapestries.
Descendants of Africa around the world wear Kente to express a connection with their history and as a symbol of overcoming struggle and displacement. In the United States for example, independent Ghana’s first prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, wore Kente to a visit with U.S. President Eisenhower in 1958. African Americans, already in the throes of the civil rights movement, began wearing Kente patterns and colors in recognition of their African roots. Kente was further promoted in the U.S. with its adoption into hip-hop culture, and today many African American students ceremoniously display Kente patterns on their graduation stoles and sashes worn over their gowns.