What is Kente Cloth?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

As a royal form of fabric among the Ashanti people of Ghana, kente cloth is an African silk fabric that that is only to be worn on extremely important occasions. Derived from the Ashanti word kenten, which means basket, kente cloth features a woven look that includes an array of patterns and color, including geometric shapes and designs that are large and eye catching. A weft design that is identified as adweneasa is woven into every block of the fabric, giving it not only a bright array of colors but also a texture that is both rich and comfortable.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

While the colors and designs of the kente cloth may seem to be simply colorful and rich to the outsider, the fact is that this type of cloth is meant to tell something about heritage, family, and culture. The designs and color combinations help to portray a number of different concepts, such as democratic rule, talents such as creativity, life experience of the wearer, religious philosophies, and family lines. Kente fabrics thus are not just a way of making a statement about today, but also are a valuable way of maintaining continuity with the collected wisdom of the past, both from personal experience and community experience and history.

Kente cloth is meant to be worn only when highly important occasions arise. Most of these will be connected to a significant event within the family or within the community as a whole. In between those sacred occasions, the cloth is often stored in such a way as to prevent decay or any harm coming to the material. Choosing to pass on kente cloth to a relative is considered to be a symbol of unity with that individual and is an honor that speaks of very high regard and esteem.

While versions of kente cloth are produced in the West, they are meant more as a fashion statement and less as a connection to shared heritage or nature. Still, the colorful combinations and the unique weft used in the production of even faux kente cloth can be eye-catching. This fact alone has made it a favorite with anyone who feels an affinity for ethnic culture.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - People in the United States have a long history of appropriating other peoples cultural symbols for our own use in trends. Consider plaid, for example. Plaid was very popular a few years ago, but most people who wore it probably weren't Scottish or part of the clan the plaid represents.

The same could be said of kente cloth. Most people who wear it in the US probably aren't royalty from Ghana!


It sounds like kente is the African equivalent of Scottish plaid. I know the patterns in the plaid denote different clans, much like the patterns in the kente cloth designs show family lines.

I think it's interesting the kente cloth is supposed to be for special occasions. I know a few years ago it was popular in the United States, but people just wore it on a daily basis.

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