The History of Kente Cloth

Kente cloth is a traditional hand-woven fabric from Ghana that is renowned for its intricate designs and vibrant colors. It is widely regarded as one of Africa’s most iconic fabrics and has become a symbol of African heritage and pride. The history of kente cloth in Ghana is long and fascinating, and it is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Ghanaian people. Kente comes from the word kenten, which means “basket” in the Asante dialect of the Akan language, referencing its basket-like pattern. 

The origins of kente cloth can be traced back to the Ashanti Kingdom with the most popular town that produces the cloth being Bonwire. The Ashanti people, who are known for their exceptional craftsmanship and artistic skills, developed kente as a way of expressing their cultural identity and social status.

According to legend, the first kente weaver was a man named Karaban, who learned the art of weaving from a spider that he had observed spinning its web with his friend Amoaya. They used this knowledge to create a new type of fabric that was both beautiful and durable, and that became highly prized among the Ashanti people. They were both from Bonwire.

Over time, kente cloth evolved into a highly specialized art form, with weavers using a variety of techniques to create intricate patterns and designs. These designs often had symbolic meanings and were used to convey messages about social status, political power, and cultural identity. These days the kente patterns are even used for cotton wax print fabric popularly known as Ankara.

During the 19th century, kente cloth became more widely known and admired beyond the Ashanti Kingdom. Traders and merchants from other parts of West Africa began to carry it to other regions, and it eventually became popular throughout the continent.

In the 20th century, kente cloth gained international recognition, as more and more people outside of Africa began to appreciate its beauty and significance. It was worn by African leaders such as Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who saw it as a way of asserting African cultural identity and challenging European imperialism.

Today, kente cloth remains an important part of Ghanaian culture and is used for a variety of purposes, from clothing and accessories to ceremonial and decorative objects. It is also exported to other countries around the world, where it is prized for its unique beauty and cultural significance. In the Volta Region of Ghana, they also have kente cloth. The patterns and colour combinations are different and people mostly call them Ewe Kente cloths. The looms that are used to weave this kente are practically identical. Some people even argue that kente originated from this place because the name kente means weave in some Ewe dialects.

In conclusion, the history of kente cloth in Ghana is a rich and fascinating story that reflects the creativity, skill, and cultural heritage of the Ghanaian people. From its origins as a symbol of social status among the Ashanti people to its national and international recognition as an iconic African textile, kente cloth is a testament to the enduring power of African art and culture.

Differences between kente and batakari fugu fabric

 A lot of times when people see our handwoven smock fabric they call it kente. This needs to stop NOW! These are two very different fabrics and in this article, I will tell you why. First of all, let me acknowledge the people who work hard to make these beautiful pieces of art we call fabric. I’ve seen both smock fabric and kente being made and it’s such an amazing thing to behold. 

When I was in university I had the privilege to do my final year project work at the place kente began and its biggest production location yet, Bonwire in the Ashante Region. Kente is a handwoven fabric which is often made up of many vibrant colours and made with a loom. The weavers make beautiful patterns and shapes. The weaving is often done in strips and then sewed together to get cloths of different sizes. Kente fabric is mostly worn wrapped around the body or sewn into beautiful garments. In modern times kente is even used to make accessories like bags and shoes as well as decorations. These days the patterns and colours have evolved to the extent that some cloths even have metallic and shimmery looks to them. 

Kente is mostly worn to ceremonial events. These cloths are more expensive than most fabrics on the market because they are handmade and very unique. Kente prints and patterns have been replicated on cotton, silk, satin and other fabrics. Many people frown on this because they believe the essence of kente is being taken away. A lot of these kente replicas are made by Chinese companies which makes the case even worse. Kente fabric has appeared on several international runways by big high fashion brands.

Smock or batakari fabric is a handwoven fabric mostly from Northern Ghana. This fabric is made carefully in big looms which are often controlled by women. The main design is long stripes in various colours but often not many colours per cloth. The stripes often vary in size making the design a bit more conservative but unique as well. Smock fabric is also woven in strips and then handsewn together. 

The name batakari means a smock which is what most of these fabrics are used for. Smocks from northern Ghana come in many forms. They are often hand or machine sewn and lined nicely. Ex-President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings and John Mahama were two of the people who made smocks very popular among men in Ghana. Samira Bawumia, Ghana’s second lady also brought out the beauty of smock fabric with her high-end tailored dresses.

This smock fabric has been used to make so many things besides smocks and clothes. These days you can find bags, shoes and other fashion accessories made with batakari fabric. As compared to kente, fugu fabric is more affordable. The key difference between the two also lies in the style of weaving and the patterns. Kente patterns tend to be quite busy while fugu fabric is made up of stripes in different thicknesses and colours. 

At the end of the day, both fabrics look beautiful and one can choose either one based on preference. Sometimes you can even combine them. How cool is that? Can we all stop saying Northern kente now?