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Asante Kente Cloth



Kente cloth is only one part of an Asante leader’s attire. The Asantehene (king) pictured above also wears gold jewelry and carries a staff or flywhisk.
Photograph courtesy of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution


In addition to wearing royal cloth and gold jewelry, during official appearances the Asantehene sits on an elaborately carved and decorated stool or throne like this one.


 


key idea
Kente cloth is a powerful symbol of African unity and heritage.

In the past, the finest, most intricate kente cloths were reserved for Asante royalty. The Asantehene (the king) had a special assistant whose job it was to select, store, and repair his official wardrobe. Many patterns and designs could be used only on royal cloths. Even among lesser officials, it was bad manners to have a finer cloth than your superior.

Kente cloth has become a symbol of pride in African heritage. Leaders from all over the African continent and elsewhere have adopted it as part of their official dress. Asante people now wear kente for formal occasions much as Westerners wear tuxedos and evening gowns. Kente cloth is often handed down from father to son and mother to daughter as a treasured family heirloom. Today, kente patterns are often reproduced in machine-made and printed fabrics that take far less time to make.

In America, kente is similarly a symbol of pride and unity for many people of African heritage. High school and college students and professors often wear strips of kente as stoles at graduation ceremonies. Colorful kente patterns are used to decorate nearly everything imaginable, from mouse pads to wrapping paper to furniture upholstery, making it possible for people to celebrate African identity in their everyday lives. Kente is also an important symbol during the African American holiday Kwanzaa and on Martin Luther King’s Birthday.



 
   
September 2006