When we lived in Burkina Faso we were introduced to strip weaving. Using simple looms, hand-made out of branches and strips of home-cured leather, men wove beautiful strips of cloth which are then sewn together to make cloth. Weaving, it turns out, is a man’s job in Burkina Faso. The cotton is dyed before weaving, and the intricacy of the design depends on the skill of the weaver. I still have a garment made by a man who won third place in a national weaving contest. It is a beautiful combination of blue, black, silver and white.
Here in Ghana, there is a very special kind of strip-woven cloth called Kente (pronounced ken-tay). It contrasts other strip woven cloth in Africa by its vivid colors and geometric shapes. A room full of Kente cloth can be a bit overwhelming.
Traditionally, Kente cloth was only worn by the members of the royal court. The weavers worked for the king. Now days, it is freely available. You can buy it at the airport as well as in many markets. But for the really good stuff, you need to go to the source. I had the opportunity to visit the town which is home to the weavers for the royal court. We visited a small shop stuffed with the brightly colored fabric while a young man sat at a traditional loom in the street outside making even more.
The most common use of the cloth is as men’s wear. A large piece is draped in a specific way over the left shoulder leaving the right shoulder bare. I’ve tried it. I learned that I need a lot more practice before I try wearing it in public! The men who wear it all the time make it look so easy. The men in the photo wearing kente are traditional cheifs among the Nawuri people of Ghana’s Volta Region.