There are varying accounts of the history of Kente Cloth and its origin; most of these narratives don’t add up and lack a lot of facts.
You are about to read the true history of the Kente cloth narrated by a Chief Kente weaver Akwesi Kwarteng.
Akwesi Kwarteng is a descendant of Nana Osei Kufour, a designer and artist who added patterns to the Kente cloth.
Note That, Nana Osei Kuffour was the head of Otumfuo Osei Tutu (I) Kente Weavers. Otumfuo Ntoma Nwenefuo Hene in Akan. After adding patterns and design to the Kente cloth, this title was conferred on him.
The history of the Kente cloth revolves around some great personalities including Opoku Kuragu, Kwakye Ameyaw, Nana Bobi Ansah(I), Nana Osei Tutu(I) and, some unnamed women from the Oyoko clan who were traders.
These unidentified women were also from Bonwire, the town where Kente originated. Let’s dive in.
History Of Kente Cloth
The history of the Kente Cloth is dated back to the year 1678, when two brothers, Opoku Kuragu and Kwakye Ameyaw, discovered this great treasure we are all proud of today.
On that faithful day, Opoku Kuragu and Kwakye Ameyaw went hunting and saw a spider weaving its web. Fascinated by what they saw, they decided to replicate it when they returned to their homes in Bonwire.
Through their experiment, they wove the first-ever Kente cloth with raffia and called it “Ayase Nwene Ntoma,” meaning (Midriff Woven fabric). The name came as a result of the process of making it.
The process was a simple one. It involved tiring the raffia strands to their toe and their midriff.
After the first sample, they realised it was too small and could not be used for anything remarkable. Ofori and Ameyaw continued to perfect the weaving technique and improve the quality of the end product.
At this stage, they found a way of making the weaving better and easier. They laid the wood on the ground in a loom-like manner to aid their work. With this newfound technique, they produced the second version of the fabric.
This second version was called Asase Ntoma, meaning Earth fabric. This version was an improvement and better than the first one.
The Europeans and The Silk Scarf
Years later, when the Europeans arrived on Gold Coast, some traders from the Oyoko family (Oyokofuo Mmaa) in Bonwire went to trade with the Europeans at Cape Coast.
Through their trade, they bought silk scarves from the whites and brought them to Bonwire.
In the quest to make their discovery better, Ameyaw and Opoku took the silk scarf, pulled the thread/yarn, and used it to weave another version of the fabric.
At that time, they were yet to discover the various colours we see today. This one was called Gagamuga.
Presenting The Discovery To Nana Bobi Ansah(I)
Ameyaw and Opoku presented the gagamuga version of the fabric to king Nana Bobi Ansah(I). Nana was pleased with the discovery and the fabric and decided to help them take it further.
Nana Bobi Ansah(I) led the weavers to present the fabric to the overload of the Asante Kingdom. Otumfuo Osei Tutu(I), at Manhyia Palace.
Nana Osei Tutu(I) Request
Nana Osei Tutu(I) was impressed with the fabric and requested they go and weave another with the colours of the Ashanti Kingdom.
Otaa Korabang The Colour and Dye Expert
Opoku and Ameyaw returned to Bonwire. Went to seek the help of Otaa Korabang, who was a hunter and an expert in natural dye and colours.
He had already discovered some plants that could add colours to objects. He acquired the knowledge of natural dyes also through hunting. The initial colours were gold/yellow, black and green.
Nana Osei Kuffour Patterns and Design Expert
Another important person we can’t omit from the Kente cloth history is Nana Osei Kufour, a master of art, design, and pattern. He was brought on board by Opoku and Ameyaw to help with the pattern and design.
The Kente Cloth Was Born
Opoku and Ameyaw, together with the help of these two people, produced the first-ever coloured Kente cloth as requested by Otumfuo Osei Tutu(I)
They presented the cloth to Otumfuo Osei Tutu(I). He was so happy with it and decided to name it after his Clan, the Oyoko Clan, and the women who brought the silk from Cape Coast.
It was called Oyoki Mbaa Ntoma (Oyoko women’s cloth) and was made of cloth for the royals.
Nana Osei Tutu(I) honoured Ameyaw and Opoku with the chieftaincy title “kings of royal cloth.” The Oyoko women were also honoured with the title ‘Chiefs of Oyoko Women’
Nana Osei Kuffour was also appointed head of the king’s weavers. (Otumfuo Ntoma Nwenefuo Hene). To date, every Kente cloth worn by any Ashanti king is made by the descendant of Nana Osei Kuffour, of which Akwesi Kwarteng, who narrated this story, is part.
Note that the original name of Kente cloth is Nwene Ntoma (Woven Cloth).
The Origin of The Name Kente
As the cloth gained popularity, people referred to it as Kenten Ntoma (Raffia Cloth), because it has the characteristics of a woven basket.
In Akan, Kenten is a traditional basket made with either raffia or canes.
The name Kente was coined out of the word Kenten(basket).
The history of Kente cloth stretched over a period of years, and it involves struggles and perseverance. It’s not for nothing that we hold in high esteem and wear it with pride.
The next time you decide to buy and use any Kente cloth, know that it’s not just ordinary cloth. It’s a cultural and royal cloth.