About 375 years ago, two brothers from Bonwire, a village in the Ashanti region of Ghana were said to have gone hunting one afternoon when they came across a spider spinning a web.
According to legend, the two, Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban, were amazed by the beauty of the web and decided to create something similar to it.
When they returned home, the two weaved the first cloth out of black and white fibres from a raffia tree.
More about this
The cloth they produced looked like a basket due to the nature of the weaving of the web.
In the Akan local parlance, a basket is known as “K3nt3n”. The cloth then became “k3nt3n ntoma” which over time has become Kente.
Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban subsequently presented the kente cloth to the Asantehene or king, Nana Osei Tutu I who approved it as a royal cloth and was saved for special occasions.
Since then, the colourful fabric has been adopted by many and it’s used during occasions like festivals, funerals, naming and marriage ceremonies as well as, public events.
Even though the first kente cloth was made of raffia fibres, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, silk which came from Portuguese traders, was used to make the cloth.
But since the silk was imported, it became very costly and this meant that they were only available to Akan royalty.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the kente cloth became no more a reserve of the royalty and the affluent. It got expanded to every corner of the country as cheaper materials were used in producing the fabric.
Instead of being made solely from silk, Kente is now made mostly from cotton, as well as rayon, making it affordable for almost everyone.
In the diaspora, the fabric has been embraced by many. In the United States, the cloth is found on several types of clothing, objects and other accessories of mainly African-Americans.
Kente is woven on ancient handlooms (narrow horizontal wood structure). Craftsmen operate the loom with their hands and feet.
Women are not allowed to weave the cloth as their menstrual cycles were thought to interfere with the production of the cloth.
Currently, there are more than 50 types of kente patterns and each time a new pattern is created, it must first be offered to the royal house.
If the king refuses to take the pattern, it can be sold to the public. Designs worn by Asante royalty may not be worn by others, according to legend.
The fabric also comes in beautiful colours but each colour has its meaning. Green means growth and energy, yellow means wealth and royalty, blue means love and red means violence and anger.
The cloth has since become both symbolic and representative of the history of the Akan people and Ghana in general, even though the Ewes from the country’s Volta region have been trying to lay claim to the fabric.