Traditional Kente-An Outfit for Every Occasion

While watching the cinematic masterpiece that is Black Panther over the weekend, I took notice of the bright colors and bold patterns of the outfits that they were wearing. It brought to mind a book that I read recently to my sons called The Spider Weaver: Legend of Kente. The same bright colors had been plastered across its pages in an eloquent story of tradition and folklore. A story about the birth of the Kente cloth.Traditional Kente

The Kente cloth has been a longstanding traditional weave in Ghana, used by royalty and commoners alike with many of the colors and symbols playing a very specific role in any situation. The origin of the Kente cloth is highly disputed among the different cultures that have now adopted it into their own family heritage. For the sake of necessity, we will concentrate on the most talked-about, the legend of Anansi, the spider weaver. In this legend, Anansi, a trickster god originating from the Ashanti tradition most commonly depicted as a spider, has woven a detailed web of many colors and designs next to a Ghanaian village. Two brothers happen to come upon the web and decide to try to copy the design, thus creating the first Kente weave. The story is a wonderful piece of history that even children can understand and enjoy.

Now, you may have not noticed this beautiful design in many pop-culture moments but it has been appearing more and more with the introduction of Influential black directors, writers, designers, and actors. Most recently and with bountiful success in Black Panther. The characters wore futuristic designs brought to life by designer Ruth E. Carter in an effort to bring afro-futurism to the mainstream, a feat that earned her an Oscar for Best Costume Design. She pulled inspiration from the traditional Kente and from the many colorful wardrobes of a variety of African tribes in hopes of creating admiration for the looks that past African peoples have made, their creative fashions having sparked the inventive minds of many past and current designers.

Traditional Kente

With the world's growing awareness and appreciation of African tradition, we have begun to see it used (and sometimes misused) in unexpected ways. Kevin Hart proudly, and hilariously, wore a royal Kente Cloth in Ride Along 2 when he pretended to be of African royalty to sneak into an elegant, and private, party. The new Lion King musical on Broadway brought the cloth to a new type of audience and was marvelously illustrated in the storyline. There were quick clips of the woven beauty in Coming To America, a fact that I ever-increasingly hope they will bring to the forefront for the new sequel that is coming to theaters soon. It was even present on Democratic representative Nancy Pelosi and others as they attended a demonstration against racism and police brutality. Although the occasion highlighted the intense misuse and incorrect understanding of what these iconic fabrics mean to the world and even among their own people. It has provided a sense of responsibility in the African-American community to help correct and teach our neighboring communities about the importance of proper respect for the symbols of their culture.

While this tradition has become more widespread, it originated with Ashanti royalty. It was reserved for only the most important of people, each different Kente representing a different occasion in society. Black, of course, being used internationally as a symbol of death and thus being the dominant color at funerals. The variety of the hues and symbols means that I dare not attempt to define each and every one. I leave that in the capable hands of you reading. Take a look into the rich history and enjoy the brightly weaved patterns of stories of old. I encourage you to follow the proverbial spider web into the many sources online that have made the time and put in the effort to decode the secrets to these fantastical designs and magical creations.

Here are some of the meanings of the colors on the cloth.

  • Red- Blood, strong political and spiritual feelings
  • Yellow- Royalty, wealth, holy, precious
  • Blue- Peace, harmony, love
  • Gold- Royalty, wealth, spiritual purity
  • Green- Harvest, growth, spiritual renewal
  • White- Purity, healing, festive occasions
  • Maroon- Mother earth, healing
  • Purple- Earth, healing, femininity
  • Black- Maturation, spirits of the ancestors

Kente Cloth

Other books to display the iconic fabric and introduce you a new tidbit from another culture:

My Friend Maya Loves to Dance

Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock

Spider and the Sky God

A Story, A Story

Have you spied this traditional cloth in other movies or books? COMMENT BELOW!