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Asante Kente Cloth

There are two ways to look at a West African kente (KEN-tay) cloth hanging in a museum gallery. You can stand a few feet back, watching the colors and patterns dance in a vibrant rhythm across the cloth. Or you can step in close and see what gives the cloth its visual energy. Blocks of pattern—dark and light, straight and zigzag, horizontal and vertical—shifting and changing, make the cloth hum with life.

Now imagine the cloth as clothing, draped around the body somewhat like a Roman toga. The patterns would shimmy with the wearer’s every move. For the Asante (uh-SAHN-tay) people of Ghana (also known as the Ashanti), the colors and patterns also have symbolic meanings that add another dimension to the cloth.

Ghana, Asante people
Man’s cloth, 20th century
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Kente cloths are made from narrow strips sewn together to form a lively pattern.
Each pattern in a kente cloth has its own name.
Kente cloth is a powerful symbol of African unity and heritage.

Colorful Meanings: When making a kente cloth, a weaver uses many colors, each with a special meaning. Look closely at this kente cloth. What colors do you see? Research their meanings, using the Internet and your local library. Based on their meanings, what colors would you want in your own cloth?  

A Symbol of Pride: Today you can find kente cloth and patterns in the United States. Where have you seen kente cloth in your community? When people in the United States wears kente clothing, what are they expressing? How is the wearing of kente cloth different in the United States than in Ghana?  

Dressed for the Occasion: Kente cloths are worn by Asante people at important occasions and celebratory events like weddings, festivals, and funerals. What kind of clothing do people in your community wear at such events? How does that clothing compare to kente cloths? Design an outfit you would wear to an important event.  

Weaving a Pattern: To make the warp, fold a large piece of construction paper in half. From the fold, draw evenly spaced lines, leaving an inch at the end and on both sides. Cut along the lines and then unfold the paper. Next, cut narrow bands of different colored paper to serve as weft strips, and add designs with markers or crayons. Weave the strips in and out of the warp to make a pattern. Repeat with different patterns to make the weaving even more colorful.  

More About Kente Cloths: Visit the online exhibition Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity from the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. You can see more examples of kente cloths, learn how a kente cloth is wrapped, and even design your own cloth! Click here to enter the site. (Please note that you will be exiting the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Web site.)  

Bibliography: Chocolate, Debbi, and John Ward. Kente Colors. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers, 1996. (Youth literature)

Lamb, Venice. West African Weaving. New York: Duckworth, 1975.

Musgrove, Margaret. The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth . New York: Blue Sky Press, 2001. (Youth literature)  

September 2006