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Who Invented the Kente Cloth?

The origins of the Kente cloth go back 400 years to West Africa, in what is now modern day Ghana. While its invention is often attributed to the people of the Ashanti Tribe, the Kente cloth may have instead been invented by the people in the Ewe Tribe, who later shared the tradition with the Ashanti.

The latter argument is evidenced by the word Kente closely resembling the Ewe words describing the weaving technique. In the Ewe language, the syllables “Ke na te”, describe the action of weaving Kente cloth, with “ke”  translating to “open” and “te” translating to “press”, the motions that are repeated hundreds or thousands of times to weave Kente Cloth. Some argue those syllables may have been corrupted over time into just “Kente”. The Ashanti people, in their native Akan and Ashanti dialects, instead refer to Kente cloth as “nwentoma”. 

In the Ashanti origin story, Kente cloth is said to be traced back to two farmers from the Bonwire Village, named Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban. According to the legend, the men were hunting when they encountered a brilliantly patterned spider web spun by Ananse, a trickster spider from West African lore. Ananse agreed to demonstrate the weaving technique to the farmers in exchange for some favors, and the two men shared their impressive results with the Ashanti king.

Kente Stole Weaving

Given the two possible origin accounts, it seems more plausible that kente cloth originated with the Ewe tribe. The cloth is now universal to all tribes in Ghana and remains a national treasure and heritage. The cloth is a symbol of royalty and is featured in festive occasions, such as graduations, throughout Ghana and the African diaspora.

 

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