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Asante Kente Cloth

The warp pattern of this cloth, formed by repeating sets of 4 white threads and 44 black threads, is called kubi.

The solid horizontal bands of this pattern block are known as babadua, named after a plant similar to bamboo. It is one of the most common designs on Asante kente cloths.

The repeating triangular shapes in this pattern block are called nkyemfre, meaning “unity in strength.”

key idea
Each pattern in a kente cloth has its own name.

Hundreds of variations are possible for each element of a kente cloth—for the stripes formed by the warp threads, for the designs created with the weft threads, and for the colors used throughout. But Asante weavers rarely invent variations on their own. Instead, they choose from the wide range of designs established by tradition.

Kente cloth had its beginnings in weaving traditions dating back to the 11th century. In the late 1500s, as the Asante empire became powerful and wealthy, traders brought colorful silk fabrics from Italy, India, and North Africa to the region. By the early 1700s, the Asante had begun the practice of unraveling imported fabrics and reweaving the silk threads into splendid fabrics for the royal court and regional chiefs. Kente cloth has been known for its dramatic colors and intricate patterns ever since.

An Asante weaver might know hundreds of patterns by heart, each having its own name. Warp patterns, which are stripes of color, have names taken from proverbs, important chiefs or queen mothers, or historical events. Weft designs are usually named for plants, animals, or objects that the pattern resembles. A finished cloth usually has the same name as the warp pattern. When purchasing a kente cloth, customers often consider the meaning of the names.

September 2006