Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learn all about Ghanaian Kente Cloth with Books & Crafts


Kente cloth is the best known and most recognizable African fabric. It's a hand woven cloth with geometric shapes, bold designs, and bright colors. Kente is worn by many in the African diaspora as a statement of their pride in their African heritage. For example, students will often wear a strip of kente on their graduation gowns. This colorful cloth originates from Ghana, in West Africa.


Colorful Kente Cloth
Photo Credit: John Nash (CC)

Kente comes from word "kenten" which means basket. It's made by the Ashanti people of Ghana, the Ewe of Ghana & Togo, and the Akans in Cote d'Ivoire. First made in the 17th century, it was originally the cloth of Kings, and only worn by royalty. Now it's the national cloth of Ghana, often worn for special occasions, like festivals, ceremonies, weddings and births.


Ashanti chiefs carry extra kente when gathering with the king, because if they're wearing the pattern the king has chosen, they have to immediately change. Read more about Ashanti royalty and chiefdom here.

Kente
Photo Credit: Vicki See (CC)


To make kente, bright brilliant colors in silk or cotton are used. They are woven on narrow looms 4" to 8" wide, and these narrow strips are sewn together to make the fabric. Traditionally only woven by men, the skills are passed down from one generation to the next.


See more examples of Kente cloth here.


Weaving KentePhoto Credit: Left, Damien H. Radermecker CC; Right, Breezy Baldwin CC
Adapted into a collage

The fabric is used to make clothing, or more traditionally into a big swath worn like a toga, draped over one shoulder for men, or wrapped around the waist for women. Women also wear it as a skirt, blouse and matching headwrap.


Find instructions on how to wear kente here. Try it yourself with a sheet!


Left: Ashanti Chiefs wearing kente (Photo Credit: Sweggs CC-adapted into collage);
Right: Women wearing kente sewn into dresses, blouses and skirts (Photo Credit: John Nash CC-adapted into a collage)

Kente cloth preserves Ashanti culture and history with its patterns. Each pattern is named, and some say there are over 1000 patterns! Kings have particular patterns created for them, and some patterns are a reference to important events that happened during the reign of an Ashanti king. Patterns can also refer to proverbs and represent strength, bravery, beauty, valor and leadership. For example there's a pattern called "lion catcher" that values the skills of warriors. Another pattern symbolizes forgiveness based on the proverb "Sooner or later, one would stray into the path of the other" meaning that we all make mistakes therefore we should be forgiving because someday we will be the ones mistaken. 


Find more examples of kente patterns and their meanings here.

Photo Credit: Jason Finch (CC)

The colors used also have their own meanings. For instance, Yellow/Gold is chosen for royalty because it's associated with wealth in reference to Ghana being the Gold Coast (having once traded prolifically in gold). It also symbolizes a controlled fire which represents the power of royalty to bring continuous life and warmth.







Read a Book

Here are two books to read to introduce kids to Kente cloth:

Kente Colors by Debbi Chocolate (affiliate link) This book has beautiful bold illustrations that offers a small glimpse into Ghana, with each person wearing a form of kente cloth. With few words, it's a great book for younger kids. The author shares an endnote about the history and patterns of kente.







The Spider Weaver: A Legend Of Kente Cloth by Margaret Musgrove. (affiliate link) This is the illustrated story known among the kente cloth weavers of Ghana that dates back hundreds of years. It tells of how two weavers, who  made simple plain cloth, were inspired by the intricate and colorful web of a spider to create the colorful, bold patterned kente cloth. There's also an endnote about the history and patterns of kente.








Make your own Kente

You can "make your own" kente cloth at home, either with paper or try your hand at actual weaving. Here are three different ways of creatively making kente with paper, and our little jaunt at weaving a strip with yarn. 

Paper
Paper is easily accessible and these three projects range in complexity and time. Two are a great introduction to weaving and all three have kids playing with patterns.

Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational put together a great activity inspired by Kente cloth patterns that uses stamping and creating patterns. She also includes a printable sheet on which to write your cloth's story, meaning and/or symbolism!








Kid World Citizen shares a tutorial to make this fantastic kente paper art project. Kids will love painting various patterns, and weaving them together to create the final piece. 









This paper strip kente weaving was a fun project based on United Art & Ed's video  using four different colors of cardstock and black paint. 



















Yarn Weaving
Elle and I both really enjoy weaving and this was the perfect opportunity to learn a few new tricks. Since Kente is made in narrow strips, we worked together weaving a 3" wide strip that I then turned into a pouch to hold the beans used with our oware (mancala) game



I made a very simple cardboard loom with notches on the top and bottoms, and we tried patterns described in a weaving kit Elle owns. The leftover lengths of yarn were trimmed then tied and woven to the back of the strip. I then folded the strip over and sewed it into a pouch.




Here are a few resources and instructions to try out weaving with your kids:
  • There are good, clear and basic instructions for weaving with a cardboard loom and a popsicle stick for kids here.
  • This tutorial for weaving with kids shows how to create a different pattern when weaving
  • This handy video also shows how to create different patterns.


I hope you have the chance to try out your own Kente craft project. 

Find more West African textile crafts and tutorials here.

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

6 comments:

  1. Those vibrant colours and patterns are so distinctively African, but I'd never thought about their origins or meaning.

    I always find the meanings of colours especially interesting. It's Mothers Day here in the UK and I found myself drawn to wearing black, which I worried was 'wrong' for Mothers Day, somehow. I went with my instincts though, so I enjoyed reading in your post that black is related to spirits of the ancestors - perhaps my late grandmother and great grandmother inspired my outfit today! :-)

    Your pouch is beautiful.

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    Replies
    1. It's interesting that what is essentially a Ghanaian cloth can be so representative of Africa to those of us in Europe and North America (and who knows where else!). I do love those colors - and their various meanings :)

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  2. I love the colours as well. In fact I think the vibrancy of the colours basically sum up the whole of Africa to me, although I absolutely realise this could be rather simplified! The books you recommend look great and I love your pouch!

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  3. I love kente cloth! What a great resource this post is!

    ReplyDelete

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