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About Ghana & Kente

When I first returned from Ghana I had many presentations at schools, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and such about my experience in Ghana and in the Peace Corps. Based on the presentations I came to the following conclusions:

  • Elementary school students ask too simplistic boring questions … but at least they are not scared to ask them and appeared interested.

  • High school student are “too cool” to ask questions … or simply fear ridicule by peers if they ask a question perceived as being stupid.

  • Adults can apparently only ask encyclopedic type of questions.

  • Junior high students were the best group of listeners because they asked every day life type of questions and were not scared to ask them.

I do not herein intend to provide encyclopedic type of answers. If you want those type of answers go to http://www.ghana.com/ghana.htm or purchase Ghana, 3rd : The Bradt Travel Guide (Bradt Travel Guide) (Paperback) on Amazon.com. The Bradt Travel Guide is especially great if you actually intend to visit the great country of Ghana.

I herein want to simply provide junior high school type of answers and my impressions mixed in with some encyclopedic type of answers if appropriate.

Kente is primarily produced in the Ghana, West Africa. To know about Kente you should also know about Ghana.

Ghana is situated in West Africa, just above the Equator. Ghana shares common boundaries with Togo in the east, Burkina Faso in the north and Cote d'Ivoire in the West. The Atlantic Ocean is in the south. Ghana has 10 regions and far too many languages to include here. However, due to Ghana having been a British Colony, “The Gold Coast”, the official language is English and many people speak at least a little bit of it or at least know someone in town that does so. Mind you, their English can be unique.

If you open some travel guides, the first thing you may read is “Ghanaians are the friendliest people in sub-Saharan Africa”. I will gladly confirm this statement … matter of fact to the point of overkill.

I at times would ask for directions and instead of just giving me the directions, Ghanaians would walk me to my destination. At home in Akoasi, Eastern Region, if people found out I liked something (i.e. coconuts, pawpaws (papayas), mangoes, etc.), I would have so much of it that I would overdose.

As some of you are aware, papayas are great meat tenderizers … well during the season, I was the meat and I was tender due to all the papayas I was eating. I could even line up the papayas outside my home to show people I still had plenty and could not keep up but still more would come. During our Peace Corps training we learned to always accept gifts graciously so the papayas pilled up.

I had two mango trees, two papaya trees, two avocado trees and couple of other trees. My fence was made of bamboo and tree branches that soon became trees themselves. During one season neighbors and kids took all “my” avocados. I love avocados so I mentioned my frustration with not having many avocados for myself. The next year I ate avocados with everything and I must have turned green myself.

During training we were taught not to even jokingly call someone a thief. As an American, it was amazing for me to experience an actual theft in the capital of Ghana, Accra. The thief was running down the street with the victim screaming behind him. Unlike in America were most of us would simply get out of the way and disassociate ourselves from the activity, here in Accra people were trying to trip the thief, tackle the thief, throw things at him, and finally a guy in a business suit actually tackled the thief. Mind you, other similar experiences scared me a bit because of the extreme vigilantism. I heard of a murderer being brutally beaten up by the mob before the police could arrive to save him and send him to the hospital … and then off to jail.

I never worried about being robbed at home in Akoasi. Matter of fact, I was more worried about making sure I caught any possible thief prior to the people in town catching him.

Ghanaians are a very proud and strong people. They value education considerably and a teacher is still seen in high regards. I taught Math for some time at the Akoasi secondary school. I was not allowed to use corporal punishment although it was still very common at that time. Matter of fact, a student told me students initially were not respecting me because I did not cane them. Yet I found a much more effective way to keep my students in line…I made the trek to the respective parents, who were so embarrassed that I made this effort that their kids were the best behaved students after my visits. Here in the United States, I know many parents would simply tell me to be a better teacher or that their child could not be misbehaving as badly as I was saying. Gratefully I am not a teacher here in the USA … here they are under appreciated, generally under paid, and forced to not only be teachers but counselors, babysitters, and friends.

I had my own home and learned to prepare many of my own dishes. I even learned to make my own chocolate. Keep in mind, one of Ghana’s primary cash crop is cocoa. However, every once in a while I “went out to eat”. Usually I would go to have an egg sandwich or boiled and slightly salted yams with pepper sauce. At more formal times, I would eat fufu with groundnut stew. I describe fufu as a big blob that looks like shinny unbaked bread dough. It is essentially the filler while the stew is the tasty part. Fufu is usually made from a possible combination of African yam, cassava, and plantain. My personal favorite remains the straightforward yam fufu. The ingredients are boiled to death and then pounded to death and combined to provide the “blob”. There are many stews made from the likes of palm oil, okra, and groundnuts with some seafood or other meat … typically goat meat. The stew was always extremely spicy and hot.

Even in more formal restaurants you still ate fufu with your hands. The waiter would come to your table with a soap and water so you could wash your hands prior to eating and after eating. You would pinch off a piece of fufu, take a piece of meat, dunk the combination in the stew, and then eat it. I enjoyed eating fufu not because I liked it so much but because it was fun to eat. Other common dishes were banku and kenkey. These two would be eaten with pepper sauce or some other sauce or stew. Banku is fermented corn/cassava dough mixed proportionally and cooked in hot water into a smooth whitish consistent paste. Kenkey is fermented maize meal traditionally prepared by boiling balls of mixed portions of fermented cooked maize meal and raw maize dough wrapped in cornhusk. Another favorite of mine was kontomire, which is close to a spinach stew.

Well that’s enough of Ghana from me. I just wanted you to get a feel and maybe make your mind travel a little bit. This site is about Kente so I should get back to talking about it. I am still working on an e-book with more information that will be included as a bonus gift after purchase. I will go into more depth in that book about my Ghana.

Kente

Pass mouse over below image/movie.

Weaver movie  

The Ewe and Ashanti are disputing the origins of kente. The Ewe claim the Ashanti’s effectively forced the Ewe to teach them the kente weaving skills. Yet the Ashanti are better known around the world as the kente weavers. 

The chief in Kpetoe in the Volta Region spent considerable time with my friend and I during my January 2006 trip to Ghana (click here for trip report) talking about kente and “proving” Ashanti kente actually came from the Ewe.  He went on to explain how the Ewe probably learned the skills and a bit of the Ewe history.  I hope to learn more from him and the resources he provided.

As per the Ashanti version, the story goes two brothers from the town of Bonwire in the current Ashanti Region of Ghana went out to the bush to go hunting around 800 years ago. During their unsuccessful hunt they took a break. During the break they observed a spider weaving its net. They continued to observe and took the giant step forward and tried to apply the spider’s skills themselves.

At first the weavers wove with raffia fibers and over time weavers switched to local wild cotton. Typically the women would process the cotton to a thread using a stick and a calabash. Men were the weavers of the cloth. Nowadays weaving is still mostly done by men but the cotton or silk thread is purchased at various markets. Even today materials to make the tools necessary in making kente are locally available and some weavers I met still know how to make the tools themselves. However, many weavers including ones as terrible as me buy the tools … however, the tools are still made in Ghana and are of locally available materials. No “Made in China” stuff here yet.

Apparently a fellow named Nana Otaa Kraban of Bonwire really made kente weaving the art it is today. Due to his skills the cloth became the cloth of royalty. Today those that can afford it wear it at formal occasions. I joke around and call it the Ghanaian tuxedo. In Accra you may run into a wealthier Ghanaian gentleman driving his new Mercedes on Sunday wearing his finest kente cloth.

The kente designs vary considerably and many have names or signify something about the wearer. I know some mean power, patience, honor, military prowess, courage and so on. The names may be of past Ashanti royalty, Queen mother of some place, etc. Some designs commemorate a special occasion such as a wedding.

Kente is a colorful, handwoven cloth woven in strips of about four inches wide on a traditional wooden loom. The strips are usually around seventy-two inches long and around twenty-four of the strips are hand sown together to make a full cloth of kente. The weaver who creates a new design can assign names and significance to his designs.

From my own experience weaving is really simple. However, weaving well is not. I only wove a simple kente but sometimes my lines were tighter than other times. I think the toughest part about weaving is getting everything setup to start to weave. The best way to show you how to weave is through images. So I hope the following images help a bit in my explanation.

For the sake of explanation, I am going to use longitudinal and latitudinal thread as a description. The longitudinal thread, which I believe is called the weft, is passed through the various tools shown and placed on a weighted sled twenty plus feet away from the loom. Various color combinations could be used. I see the longitudinal thread has the backbone of the cloth. Whereas the latitudinal thread is the colorful design thread or the “fun” part of weaving.

The cloth is usually bought in a bundle, of which some needs to be spooled onto hollow bamboo spools. These holders are loaded into the shuttle, which in turn is passed through the longitudinal threads. Once the thread has been passed through it is pressed down into its place. With design kente the latitudinal thread weaving is a bit more complicated and time consuming.

That’s all I wanted to include on this page so I hope I gave you somewhat of a feel for kente. I am working with Samuel on a more thorough explanation about Ghana and kente, which we hope to include as a bonus for customers someday soon. We also welcome you to sign up for our newsletter so that you can keep up with Ghana and in particular kente.

 


 

 
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