Richly woven Kente cloth is among the most famous woven cloths of Africa. Made originally for Ashanti tribal royalty in the seventeenth century, the cloth is derived from an ancient type of weaving practiced since the eleventh century. In the past, Kente cloth was woven by hand on looms, or weaving devices, in a tightly formed basket weave. The dense fabric was very difficult to weave, and weavers who devised new patterns were revered. Traditionally, each new pattern is named to commemorate an important event during the reign of an Ashanti king and becomes a document of the history of the people. Kente cloth is bright and is woven from dyed yarns of predominately yellow, orange, blue, and red. Originally the colorful cloth was made from raffia fibers, from the raffia palm, but later was created from silk unraveled from imported cloth.
Although once only worn by royalty, Kente cloth continues to be worn by wealthy Africans, especially by the Ashanti of Ghana. The cloth is used to make a variety of garments draped around the body. The continued popularity of the cloth is based on its beauty as well as a belief system that some follow. Many people believe that Kente cloth can tell more than the history of a community. Some "read" the designs in the cloth for signs of the future. The cloth's appeal is so great that its popularity is now filled by cloth woven on power looms.
Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.