In honor of Black History Month this February, we’re showcasing artisans and artifacts that celebrate West African culture. One of the most iconic fabrics from Ghana is kente cloth, a gorgeous woven treasure that both delights the eye and uplifts the soul.
Kente Cloth – A basket to hold the past
In the dialect of the Ashanti’s Akan people, the word “kente” means “basket.” It is a reference to the woven design of the fabric. But it may just as easily be a figurative reference to the way that the cloth carries the stories and legends of the past. With its vibrant colors and intricate patterns, the kente cloth is more than a fashion statement. It is a fabric entwined with the history of a people.
Each pattern, symbol, and color is chosen by a master weaver to convey meaning. Black connotes strength and maturation. Green is fertility. Red is spiritual and political acumen. The patterns and symbols pay homage to important individuals, events, and proverbs. With its roots in the Ashanti Empire of the 17th century in what is present-day Ghana, kente was once reserved for royalty and special occasions. Today, it is a garment of the people.
For NOVICA artisans, Gobah Tengey-Seddoh, the kente legacy runs deep. This family of weavers has been crafting kente cloth clothing and accessories since 1821. Today, Fred is the face of this artisan group. For good reason, he has earned the moniker, “the man with the magic hands and feet,” to describe the dance-like movements he performs as he weaves on the loom. Seated at the loom, he engages his whole body, passing the shuttle through the warp, while his legs work the pulleys and lams of the loom.
He says, “What makes the Kente both an artistic and philosophical work are the ideas woven into it, the careful selection of colors and symbols used. In the olden days, it was a custom for all newly-produced designs to be shown to the King, and the ones he liked most were reserved for his exclusive use. One such design, the ‘Adweneasa’ means ‘my ideas have come to an end.’ In other words, I have poured all my ideas into this design. The weaver used all his skills to create complicated designs, predominantly in yellow, which only the King might wear.”
To peruse NOVICA’s collection of kente cloths is to travel through a world of proverbs and stories, patterns and symbols laid down through history to honor a people, their land, their triumphs, and their challenges. It is a piece of fabric that serves as a tactile reminder of the past and a colorful celebration of the future.