Kente and the African Diaspora
What is the African Diaspora? A diaspora is a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland who have since moved to places all over the world. The African Diaspora consists of the worldwide collection of communities descended from Africans. The African diaspora primarily formed due to the forced movement of Africans during slavery.
Kente cloth is woven in both Asante and Ewe communities in Ghana and in Togo. The weaving techniques are more similar than they are different. However, the kente weaving of the Asante people is internationally well-known partially because of the history of the Asante people. The Asante people fought against the British as they entered Ghana exploring for resources, including gold - Asante gold. After decades of colonization, Ghana won independence from British rule in 1957. Before British colonization, since the 12th century, kente had been reserved for royalty. After independence, it became a symbol of Ghanaian power for politicians.
The first Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, often wore Asante kente cloth at his public events (see below).
Left: Kwame Nkrumah. Right: Nkrumah and his wife Fathia Nkrumah
Photo credits: public domain
As the world watched emerging leaders like Nkrumah, the African diaspora around the world began to associate kente with not only Ghana, but an African identity more generally. Kente dramatically rose in popularity when famous boxer Muhammad Ali wore one (given to him by Nkrumah) during his visit to Ghana in 1964
Photo credit: Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Black Congratulatory Celebration
The students in this photo are not Ghanaian and are not in Ghana. They are African American and they’re graduating from Indiana University Bloomington! However they are wearing graduation stoles with kente patterns and colors. Kente cloth has become known as the most recognized fabric from the African continent. People living in the African Diaspora, including African Americans, may wear kente cloth and kente-inspired clothing to show their connection to the continent. Kente serves as a symbol of connection to the African continent from all over the globe.
How do you make kente?
Kente cloth is a woven fabric created on a loom. Weavers begin by weaving thin strips about 4 cm thick and then move on to interlacing these strips into a large fabric cloth. Traditionally, men in the Asante and Ewe cultures are the weavers. The process involves a loom, bobbins, a heddle and lots of creativity. The weaver must have an idea of their design before they begin weaving. Many will add their personal styles to a traditional pattern, creating kente cloth that both honors tradition and is unique.
Kente cloth up close - examine the detail of the weaving.