In its cultural context of use, Kente is more than just a cloth. Like most of Africa’s visual art forms, Kente is a visual representation of history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, religious belief, social values and political thought. Originally, its use was reserved for their royalty and limited to special social and sacred functions. When its production increased, it became more accessible to those who could afford to buy it. However, its prestigious status was maintained, and it has continued to be associated with wealth, high social status and cultural sophistication. Today, in spite of the proliferation of both the handwoven and machine printed Kente, the authentic forms of the cloth are still regarded as a symbol of social prestige, nobility and a sense of cultural sophistication.
According to Akan traditional protocol, Kente is reserved for very important and special social or religious occasions. Originally, it was not meant to be used for commonplace daily activities or as an ordinary wear. Its use for making clothing accessories was limited to items deemed scared or special and were used only for special occasions.
In many cases the use of Kente has a sacred intent. It may be used as a special gift item during such rites and ceremonies as child naming, puberty, graduation, marriage and soul-washing. It may also be used as a symbol of respect for the departed souls during burial rites and ancestral remembrance ceremonies. its significance as a symbol of prestige, gaiety and glamour is evident during such community celebrations as festivals and commemoration of historical events, when people proudly wear the best of their Kente Cloths to reflect the spirit of the occasion.
There are gender differences in how the cloth is worn. On average, a man’s size cloth measures 24 strips ( 8 ft. wide) and 12 ft. long. men usually wear one piece wrapped around the body, leaving the right shoulder and hand uncovered, in a toga-like style. Some men wear a jumpa, a kind of collarless shirt over which the cloth is wrapped. Women may wear either one large piece or a combination of two or three pieces of varying sizes ranging from 5-12 strips (20 inches to 48 inches wide) and an average of 6 ft. long.
By: Kweku Darko Ankrah