Kente is a Ghanaian fabric woven by the people of Agotime in the Volta Region. The fabric is colourful, traditional, historic and cultural. Learn all about Kente and shop online. The purpose of this project is to keep tradition, revamp the local industry, create employment for sustainable development
This page was created to expose the beauty of the traditional Ghanaian fabric “kente”.
Kente is a local and ceremonial cloth that is hand-woven on a horizontal treadle loom with a very high worth. There are two well-known places to find kente – in Kumasi, the Ashanti region and Agotime Kpetoe, the Volta region. The two types of kente are the Ashanti and the Ewe kente.
Nowadays the cloth is made out of cotton thread which comes in different colours, patterns, designs and signatures. The cloth includes various strips measuring about 4 inches in width and 2 yards in length which are sewn together into one large piece of cloth.
The cloths are worn during very important social and religious occasions.
It represents the history, philosophy, oral literature, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles of life. The various colours in the cloth symbolize various aspects of life. Lots of patterns, about 500 and counting, have been invented over the times for different occasions. Kente can be used to sew any kind of dress/attire, sclave, cap etc. It can also be used in the home.
Every year between September and October, the people of Agotime traditional area come together to celebrate the colourful kente festival and exhibit their rich tradition and culture.
Each hand-woven kente strip is the product of years of training in technique and design. It is the main source of employment for both men and women. But recently this local industry is on the verge of collapsing due to lack of decent structure to weave under, lack funds to buy the tread to weave, lack of market to sell the fabric locally and international and the introduction of face imported kente. Therefore this website should serve as a medium to get in touch with the idea of kente and give people the opportunity to be a volunteer or intern for VARAS to learn how to weave kente and to support the local industry.
Kente weaving has a long tradition with more than 400 years of history. The word “kente” derived from the expressions “ke” and “te” in the Ewe language, which mean spread/open (“ke”) and tighten/press (“te”). Both expressions describe the method they use to weave when they open the threads to pass the shuttle through and tighten the threads afterwards together.
For the Ewe people from Agotime, the history of kente weaving started with the time they migrated from Sudan and settled at Lekpo Ada in the Ga – Adangbe district of Greater Accra Region. After some time and due to land disputes which led to the Sagbadre war, they flee far to the south-east and finally settled at area of Agotime.
According to a legend told, one day, a hunter went into the bush, where he discovered that a bird was caught up in a spider web. After the bird managed to free itself, the hunter observed critically how the spider repaired its web. The hunter then decided to practice what he saw. He used parts from the beaten back of a tree to create a thread and tried to weave. After he has been successful, he decided to build a small loom where he could fix his threads. At this time, he used only his hands to weave.
Ewe people tell that during the Ashante wars in the 19th century, people from the area of Agotime, were captured. The captured men who were all skilled weavers of Agbamevor, were forced by the Ashanti to teach them how to weave. The Ewe weavers showed them how to “ke” and “te”, which the Ashanti then used as the labelling for the cloth. The word “kete” evolved over the years to the now known kente.
Regarding the history of kente- fabric, both the Ewe and Ashanti influenced themselves mutually. Both claim to be the first weavers of kente and one can hardly tell what is true. But what we can say is that both, Ewe and Ashanti, have a long tradition in weaving, while it is believed that the Ewe had a previous tradition of horizontal treadle loom weaving, before they were ruled by the Ashanti.
In Ewe areas kente was not limited to use by royalty only. It was also used on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals and birth rituals. Kente evolved over the years from the original black and white dyes to the nowadays used bright colours. A great variety in the patterns and functions exist in Ewe kente, and the symbolism of the patterns often has more to do with daily life than with social standing or wealth. There are more than 500 different weaving designs of kente. Each design has its own name and/or meaning. The meanings come from past events, religious beliefs, political ideas, and social customs.
Today, kente cloths are made of cotton thread and come in different colours, patterns, designs and signatures. The people of Agotime are celebrating their traditional cloth each fall at the colourful Kente festival and exhibit their rich tradition and culture.
Man weaving on traditional Kente loom
This is the kente loom. For Ewe kente it is made out of wood. In small villages people often use the wood which is laying around to construct the loom. This is the cheaper for them because they need less money to start their kente business.
To start weaving, the first thing to do is warping the background. In picture 1 (above gallery) the background is fixed in the kente loom. After warping the background needs to be inserted to the heddles (picture 2). In Ewe kente exist two pairs of heddles which are used to create the beautiful designs. As the first step, the yarn of the background is threaded through the smaller heddle in the back. Afterwards the same yarns are threaded through the bigger heddle in the front. The back heddle is used for the design threads while the front heddle is used to fix them.
The way of inserting the yarn is difficult due to counting and seeing the yarns clearly. You need to practise a lot to make no mistakes.
After heddling the yarns are fixed in the reed. Picture 3 shows the reed in its position at the kente loom. The threads are counted again, but it is easier to insert them to the reed compared with the heddles. Alternating, the threads are threaded 3 by 4. The reed is used to tighten the woven yarns.
While weaving, the gears are used to open and close the background yarns by operating the heddles. The back heddle is operated with the help of the toes, while the front heddle is operated by pushing wooden gears, similar to the gears in a car (picture 4).
In picture 5 the shuttles and the woven kente is displayed. For each colour in the kente, a different shuttle is used. One can use as much shuttles as a design needs, but at the moment the most difficult design includes 9 shuttles, which are used at the same time. For the Fatia Fa, the design every young weaver learns as their first one needs only 3 shuttles at the same time.
As the Ewe people in Ghana are the ones who claim to be the first kente weavers, the Volta Region, especially around Agotime Kpetoe which is located 25 km east of Ho, is best known for their weavers. Ewe-kente is very colourful and and also the technique is unique. In Kpetoe and the surrounding villages you can find several people, usually men, weaving kente. While walking through the town or the villages you are surrounded by the clicking sounds of the shuttles going through the background yarn of the kente cloths. In almost every village in Ghana you can at least find one person weaving kente.
In Kpetoe a Kente Weaving Centre was created by 30 weavers who formed a cooperation. In 2010 an NGO also established an eco-tourism centre. The town is famous for the quality of its Ewe kente and is considered more traditional and higher in quality than modern styles. Due to this, the price of Ewe kente is higher than the ones in other parts of Ghana which makes it difficult for the weavers to sell them regularly in their area. Most of the kente weavers, also the ones working in the kente weaving centre, selling their cloth to business partners who are mostly coming from Kumasi. They order a specific design or number of cloth which restricts the weavers in their creativity. But as the weaving of kente is still a good source of income for most of the people in the rural communities around kpetoe, they continue weaving and selling their cloth to business partners. The Kente Weaving Centre in Agotime Kpetoe is a good opportunity for people from all over the world to get an insight of the Ewe kente, to reverence the high quality of it and spread it around the world.
In most of the villages around Agotime Kpetoe, weaving is an important option for the peoples subsistence. During in Akpokope, a small village near Agotime Kpetoe, it was possible to get in touch with some of the weavers and to learn more about them.
Rose Amorbey Mawunyo is 24 years old and started weaving kente when she was 9 years old. One of the first designs she wove was “Fatia” which is also her favourite. To complete one full cloth for a woman Rose needs 1 month. Together with her husband who is also a weaver she really enjoys weaving kente as it is her only job and she would like to weave for the rest of her life.
Adzukpa Promise started weaving when he was 11. His father, who was also a weaver, taught him how to weave kente. His first design he wove was named “magazine”, because he and his father saw it on magazine. By now he haven’t created his own design. He is selling his cloth to a business partner in Kumasi who orders well-known kente designs. Promise weaves to support his education and pay his college. As he has a passion for teaching he would like to teach instead of weaving kente his whole life.
Atitsogbe Emmanuel Kwesi Tornu started learning how to weave kente in the age of 10 and was taught by the husband of his aunt. To learn kente and to become a master took him 6 years.
While he was learning he started to weave the cheapest design “Fatia Fa”. Emmanuel is selling his kente to a business man from Kumasi who is also asking for specific designs which didn’t allow him to create his own designs yet. His main job is working as a mason. Therefore he won’t weave kente as a main job but probably his whole life.
Kente Weaving Interview
The kente weaving project 2017 was conducted by VARAS and two German volunteers, Katharina und Leonie, who learned to weave kente during their two months stay at Akpokofe in the Agotime area in the Volta Region.
Another part of the project was the creation of this website about kente. We wanted to spread the gathered information about the technique, the weavers and kente itself. It was also important to launch a proper online shop for people all over the world, who are intersted in buying kente.
On our first day of weaving, our weaving master Atitsogbe Emmanuel explained to us all the important parts of the kente loom. The loom exists of four different parts – the heddles (two pairs), a reed, the cloth-beam and the gears. In the picture on the top, the parts of a kente loom are displayed.
The laying of the weaving background, which is also called warping, is usually the last thing which an apprentice of kente learns. But as we had to start somewhere, our weaving master decided to show it to us at the first day. We had to warp nearly 25 metres, which are around 13 finished woven kente strips. It was not that difficult, but we still struggled with the hot temperatures and though it was exhausting. By this time it already became clear that kente weaver are very hard working men and women.
Later, after the warping was finished, we inserted each of the thin threads into the heddles. Two heddle shafts form a pair which is necessary to create space between the warped threads to insert the shuttle.
This work is very difficult, as you have to count the thin threads and insert the right amount of them into each heddle. This step was repeated two times since the kente loom holds two pairs of heddle shafts. Before we finished our work on this day, we inserted the threads into the reed. Here we had to be carefull again, as the threads had to be inserted alternating in groups of 3 and 4 .
This was our first day of the kente project.
On the next day, we had to fix the weaving background to the cloth-beam. While weaving, the cloth-beam helps to roll up the woven strip. Before we started to weave for our first time, we had to tighten the background to the tension board. In this case, the tension board was located around 5 or 6 meters away, in other circumstances the weaver has the opportunity to locate it further away.
This was then our time – we were allowed to weave kente for the first time. During our first trial we used only one pair of the heddle shafts which is operated with the gears. We opened the background with our foot standing on the right gear and closed it by stepping off. Then we used the left gear and repeated these steps. When the background is open, we inserted the shuttle from either the right or the left side, depending on which gear we used.
Our weaving master showed us how to weave the design which every young kente weaver tries as their first one – Fatia Fa. Fatia Fa – means Fatia has taken.
This relates back to the wife of the first president of Ghana Nkrumah Kwame. When she came from Egypt, this was the first cloth she picked and the weaver then named it after her. He also chose the colours for us, Katharina got green, red and yellow and Leonie got blue, purple and yellow.
Kente strips always have a main design and a head design. Fatia Fa consists of two designs which can be used either as the head or the main design. In our case, to get two different kente cloths, Katharina used one design as her main which Leonie used as her head design and the other way round. The third design which is used for the Fatia Fa kente, is called ampa and was used by both, us.
In the following weeks we improved our weaving skills by finishing one strip after the other. While skilled weavers need 1 or 1 ½ days to finish one strip of the Fatia Fa kente, we needed 3 days in the beginning and in the end 2 days to complete one strip. In total we wove 12 strips of the Fatia Fa in 7 ½ weeks.
For our last week we had the chance to come up with some new designs which our weaving master tried to realise. This was a not an easy task as there are already more than 500 different designs available for kente. But in the end we found some nice new ones which we were taught to weave.
On our last day in Akpokofe we went to a tailor who joined the kente strips together to one cloth. He is the only tailor in this village who is able to join the kente. The next picture shows us with our weaving master, who showed us how to wear the kente in a traditional way.
During the project it was also possible to visit the kente weaving center and the ecotourism center in Agotime Kpetoe. The weavers at the weaving center showed us how they work. Their finished kente is also sold there directly to people who are interested.
Concluding we both know now that kente is hard work, thus we can appreciate the value of the fabric. The loom is not very comfortable and while weaving the whole body is needed. This work can really be exhausting – also for skilled weavers – as it needs a lot of time to finish one cloth.
Katharina and Leonie doing the warping
VARAS, with its first aim of ameliorating rural areas (where the Kente is mostly woven), wants to structure the weaving of Kente, to ease access to the thread, and also provide a decent work place for the weavers. This will help provide employment for the youth which will help improve their living conditions. An appeal is being made to everybody to help supporting this project by donating funds, giving of grants and possibly coming to witness the whole process hence helping to market the fabric.
Volunteers will acquire skills and also take the finished cloth products with them. They are encouraged to sell the products in Ghana or else where as long as the profits are used to support further rural development projects (e.g. constructions of classroom blocks, bore holes and providing of health care materials) managed by VARAS.
Volunteers who are working on the Ghanaian fabric kente project are required to raise funds to support the industry.
During the project, Volunteers engage in the weaving process.
A typical day of the project starts with
breakfast at 7:30 am.
The work starts at 8:15 am.
At 12:30 pm volunteers have a lunch break until 2 pm.
The activities end at 5 pm.
The volunteers usually don’t work on the weekends. They can use the time for visiting nearby attractive tourist sites.
Note that this is only a tentative proposal.