It's Pronounced "Kente," Like "Kunta Kinte"
Kente, pronounced "KEN-TAY," is a type of geometrical textile pattern typically woven in about 4-inch narrow strips that are sewn together. It was first developed by the people of the Ashanti (Asanti) empire, which we know as Ghana today. The word "kente" comes from the word "kenten," which refers to a basket, and is so-named because of its resemblance to a woven basket design. There are over 350 types of kente patterns, each with symbolic meanings adapted from the ancient Ashanti tradition and culture.
The cloth is usually worn for ceremonies and festivals, including weddings, child naming ceremonies, graduations, and other special events. Traditionally, women wear a piece wrapped around the waist that is floor-length and top it off with a complimentary--albeit more subdued--blouse. Another piece is draped over their shoulder, similar to a shawl or stole. Men wear it similar to a toga, with lots and lots of draping.
Symbolic Meanings of Kente Colors
Most people know the green/black/red/yellow color combinations of the kente, but there are many more kente combinations than that. In addition, all the colors have symbolic meanings:
- Black: maturity, intensified spiritual energy
- Blue: peacefulness, harmony and love
- Green: vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
- Gold: royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
- Gray: healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
- Maroon: mother earth; associated with healing
- Pink: female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
- Purple: feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
- Red: political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death
- Silver: serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon
- White: purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
- Yellow: preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility
Yes, There IS a Difference between Kente “Cloth” and Kente “Print”
Kente "cloth" is woven by hand on a loom, very intricate, and is extremely expensive (up to 10-20x the cost of kente print). In fact, it was initially only created for the kings of Ashanti, and only one master craftsman could weave it. The most expensive of all the patterns in the Ashanti culture is the “Adwene asa,” which means my skills are exhausted. Kente "print," on the other hand, is 100% cotton fabric with the kente pattern imprinted on it. Kente print is thus much more affordable than kente cloth. If you are still confused, two obvious ways to tell the difference between the two are the following:
1. Kente print will have the cleaner, sharper delineations of the geometric patterns.
2. Kente cloth is woven using rayon and is thus much thicker than the cotton of the kente print. And because it is thicker, it's not as pliable. and appropriate to make intricate dress designs like kente print.
Check out this Youtube video to see a young boy in Ewe Ghana weaving a strip of kente cloth. Now, imagine how labor-intensive it would take to weave just 1 yard--much less, 6 yards. To make larger pieces, the panels are stitched together. They can also be separated by hand to make into smaller pieces.
Regardless of which you choose, kente is probably the most universally recognized of all African fabrics and used as a symbol of African heritage for people all over the world.