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Kente: The Fabric of Kings

With impressive rapidity, the hands of the weaver flow back and forth on the right side of the fabric. Moving at the rhythm of the creaking of the pulleys and the creaking of the levers, the craftsman concentrates on the strip of colored cloth in front of him. Between the toes, it holds the strings, which command the movement of heddles, rods that rise and lower, divaricando and guiding the vertical warp threads arranged on the frame, 6 meters long. * With its nimble fingers he inserts in a transversal direction the colored silk weft threads in the warp-like threads, obtaining a weave that is then beaten and tightly tightened to form the fabric.

The piece of cloth that is forming is only ten centimeters high. But it has beautiful bright colors and intricate designs. The craftsman smiles satisfied while observing his masterpiece: an authentic kente fabric.

An ancient art

The weaving is an ancient art, practiced for thousands of years by expert craftsmen. Linen, cotton, and silk yarns have always been used as the textile material. The basic colors were obtained from roots and leaves, and with them, the Weavers managed to create simple designs and motifs for their artefacts.

The weavers of the nomadic peoples of Africa created small looms that could be easily transported from one place to another. With such looms, a narrow strip of cloth was produced of only 7.5 to 11.5 centimeters in height. These long and thin pieces of fabric were then sewn together, joined by the selvages, to form a piece of higher cloth that could be draped over the body like a dress. The portable frames, loaded on pack animals, were transported across deserts, rivers and beyond high mountain ranges. Carried along the ancient caravan routes, this characteristic frame had a profound impact on the populations with which it came into contact.

A refined fabric

For centuries the kings and chiefs of West Africa exercised dominion over the mineral-rich land called by the European Costa d’Oro explorers. * Here were extracted large quantities of gold, a source of wealth for the kings Ashanti in power and royal families. Adorned with heavy gold jewels and wrapped in a cloth specially made for them, these kings and their eminent leaders displayed their wealth, power and authority before their subjects. The particular fabric with which these rulers dressed took the name of kente, a word that perhaps alluded to its resemblance to the intertwining of a basket. Other tribes on the Costa d’Oro also used cards with the small portable frame, but the kenteit ended up becoming an emblem of the prestige and royal dignity of the Ashanti kings.

The weavers of the Costa d’Oro used a locally produced cotton yarn. The only shade available was blue. Weaving the blue thread together with the white one, they obtained striped and square effects with simple geometric patterns for the local people.

The weaving of the kente, more refined, was reserved for kings. Real expert weaving groups were set up to design and produce top quality fabrics. The weaving method was a secret that was jealously guarded.

To all the other weavers it was forbidden to make fabrics of the same models and designs of which the king and his court had exclusive rights. The king accumulated hundreds of clothes, each with his particular design and in his unique model. Traditionally, she never wore the same dress in public more than once.

Modern Kente

With the passing of time, the authority of kings and influential leaders faded. It was no longer necessary to distinguish the real from the common man using a cloth. Because this beautiful fabric began to be used by people not belonging to the royal family, its demand increased. Manufactured quickly to meet the increased demand, the kente went more and more expiring regarding quality, workmanship, and value.

Today almost all kente is made of synthetic fibers and is used in the mass production of kente stole, bags, ties, belts, hats, and clothes. There are few weavers who are concerned with realizing the kente by following the methods of the past, which require a great deal of time and energy. Now the valuable kente of the past is carefully preserved by the families and inherited from one generation to the next. The time had now passed when kente of superior quality and unrivaled workmanship was fabricated on simple wooden frames and was considered the fabric of kings.

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