Modern-day Ghana has over 100 ethnic groups that inhabit the country. Two of the largest of those cultures are the Ewe people and the Asante tribe of the Akan people. Woven among these two tribes is a legend that tells the tale of two young men and how they learned how to weave similar to a spider. Produced out of this legend, came a royal cloth; a type of cloth that hangs in the admissions building of Miami University. A version of a Kente Cloth was given as a gift to Miami by the Department of Affirmative Action and Office of Minority Affairs in August 1995. Woven by the men of the Asante tribe and the women of the Ewe people, the cloth now hangs as a symbol of collaboration and harmony between cultures.
With roots originating in the 11th-century West African weaving, “Kente” comes from the word “Kenten” which means “basket.” The patterns and cloth that are woven each consist of a name given to them by the weaver. These names usually have to do with the spiritual world, historical events, literature, values, human and animal behavior, or even events in pop culture. Originally, the wearing of the cloth was reserved specifically for the royals of the Asante tribe and even then only worn for sacred occasions. Fast forward to current times, the cloth is still seen as a symbol of wealth, high social status, and sophistication in the culture. Along with being worn to adorn the body, the Kente cloth is used as a gift to the deities to mark the power that the spirits possess. The Ewe people also wear this cloth in present times. During the late 18th century the Ewe people were under the control of the Asante but obtained the craft of weaving this cloth from their people.
Woven with small hand looms and six to eight-inch strips of colored fabric, this process can have a symbolic meaning just as the fabric does. Various parts of the loom hold a great deal of significance for the Ewe and Asante peoples and are handled with great care and respect, becoming apart of the sacred process. The complex patterns such as the ones on the Kente cloth in the admissions building are highly valued for both their visual effect and symbolic nature.
Kente is not just any cloth. It is an iconic representation of the West African peoples and their rich culture. Although time and technology, such as the machine printed kente, have made producing this cloth more timely and efficient there is still a profound act in weaving by hand. The cloth has become one of the key motifs of its people and every single string of fabric holds a captivating story of not only the weaver but of the history of their people. Whichever way the design of the Kente Cloth comes about, it constantly acts as a symbol for West Africa’s nobility, social standing, and cultural sophistication.