Art from Africa... The Kenté fabric, from yesterday to today

Tissage de tissu Kenté par un artisan ghanéen. Getty Images/Brian D Cruickshank

The Kenté (or Kita in Ivory Coast) is a colorful loincloth, woven in cotton and silk composed of strips sewn together. This hand-made fabric was once woven by men and worn by the Ashanti people of Ghana. ‘’ Kente ’’ comes from the word ‘’ kenten ’’, which means ’basket’ ’in the Ashanti dialect because its construction is a reminiscence of the basket.

Origin of the Kenté, a source of legend…

The origins date back to the 12th century. According to the best known legend, two brothers who were going hunting saw a spider called "Anansi" (found in all traditional Ghanaian tales) grab its web. Seized by the beauty of the work, they decided to use the same process with raffia threads (a type of marshy palm trees). The fabric that was made was offered to the king who was won over by the splendor of the loincloth. He decided to elevate them to the rank of royalty. They then became the official weavers of the King.

This fabric was worn exclusively by kings, queens, and important figures of the Ghanaian state during ceremonies and special occasions. In 1896, When the Ashanti king was deposed by British colonists and then exiled to the Seychelle, the wearing of the fabric became more democratic.

The Cultural value of the Kenté

The Kente is used to highlight life and carries messages. Its cultural value is found even in the meaning of colors, shapes and patterns.


Originally, the fabrics are mainly black, white but with the arrival of dyes imported from abroad Kente will become adorned in different colors.

Yellow:symbolizes the wealth, the generosity of the earth, the opulence of the sun

Green:expresses life, nature, prudence and good health

Blue:means wisdom, patience, humility, heaven and earth

White:symbol of purity, innocence, spirituality and peace

Black:symbol of occultism, hidden knowledge, mourning, mystery and darkness

Red:political and spiritual symbol, bloodshed, sacrificial rites and death

Brown:color of "mother earth", associated with healing

Purple:Symbol of femininity

Silver:Color of the moon, it symbolizes serenity, purity and joy.


There are 5 shapes: the square, the triangle, the rhombus, the circle and the cross.

Square:symbol of the earth and the cosmos; It is associated with femininity, because the woman, beyond her life (birth-existence-death-elevation) gives life (creation-procreation). This figure is very present in the kente to remind us that Akan society is matrilineal.

Triangle:represents with its three sides the life but also the family.

Rhombus: sign of the existential duality of the monarch (or chief), of his existence as a human represented by a triangle (the top one) and of that as a chief (bottom triangle). This means that the fate of the man and that of the leader are linked

Circle:represents infinity. This figure of divine essence is found in almost every kente worn during the enthronement of a king to remind the people of his divinity.

Cross: brings back to the movement of water and fire but above all to the four cardinal points.

Kenté today

The kente symbolizes a kind of solidarity with an African heritage. Most recently, and controversially, a group of senators wore kente cloth while kneeling for nine minutes in remembrance of George Floyd.

On the fashion side, many stylists, such as the Cameroonian designer Imane Ayissi who has made a place for himself in the closed world of haute couture, used kente. These contemporary designers showcase "truly" African fabrics and promote artisanal production chains.

« Black Thread » exhibition au Världskulturmuseet

Through his brand “Kente Gentlemen”, Aristide Loua wishes to discover, enhance, celebrate and promote the heritage and diverse African socio-cultural identities through fashion, aesthetics, lifestyle, photography and other visual arts.

For more, go on Kelen's account on Instagram.

Artistically yours,


Follow Kelen on Facebook and Instagram for daily news on African art.

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