Why Is Kente Cloth so Special?

Kente cloth is special on many levels. Around the world, the unique patterns and colors are easily identifiable as a representation of West African culture. In modern day Ghana, where the tradition of weaving Kente cloth began centuries ago, it's a sign of national and ethnic pride, printed on shoes, bags, and clothing throughout the nation. All tribes in Ghana have, and wear, a unique Kente design. While the details of its origins are contested, the legend of Kente’s creation also plays an important role in the folklore of many Ghanaians.

To the person wearing or displaying the cloth, Kente carries an even deeper significance. Every pattern, color, and shape has a specific meaning, and arrayed together onto the cloth, combines to represent a singular narrative. This gives each Kente design its own unique, symbolic value. Kente cloth may symbolize the wearer’s status or mark a festive occasion. It can also represent a story, anecdote, or set of values.

Who Invented the Kente Cloth?

Kente cloth has evolved additional meaning to displaced Africans and their descendants around the world, for whom it symbolizes a unity with their ancestors and the overcoming of struggles throughout the African diaspora. In the United States, Kente cloth was adopted by many African Americans in the civil rights movement, and later into hip hop fashion. Today, Kente cloth is worn as academic stoles by many African American students during graduation ceremonies, the stoles presented to them individually during pre-commencement rituals called Donning of the Kente.

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