While in Kumasi I was also able to visit two historically relevant cultural sites, the Bonwire Kente Village and the Ntonso village.
Me with my personal, hand-stamped Adinkra cloth (left). Our Adinkra teacher with a cloth stamped by all CIEE Fall 2017 participants (right).
Bonwire is the town where Kente weaving began. Kente, for those unfamiliar, is a very vibrant and colorful traditional fabric that is native to Ghana; it is worn in special ceremonies and celebrations.
My first encounter with Kente cloth was during my first year of college, when I acted in Afropolitan, Columbia’s biggest annual African showcase; my second encounter was a literary one when I stumbled upon the book Kente for a King by Angela Christian and Kathy Knowles a few weeks ago, when searching for course textbooks at Epps Bookstore in Legon; My third encounter was at Bonwire, a land full of thousands of weavers, where I learned about the origins and historical trajectory of Kente.
Kente cloth (left). George, a Kente weaver I befriended (right).
Kente weaving began when a man and his friend tried to mimic the web of a spider with fabric. Later, the cloth was brought to the local chief who shared the news with the supreme ruler of all Asante peoples, the Asantehene. After admiring its beauty, Kente was made the national cloth of Ghana and used for occasions such as births, funerals, marriages, festivals, and more. As of now, there’s hundreds of types of Kente each with its own name, pattern, and symbolic meaning, which may be anecdotal, cultural, or historical.
Adinkra cloth (left). Wooden Adinkra stamps carved from wood, or Calabash (right).
Ntonso village in Kumasi is the home of Adinkra cloth. The origin of Adinkra is said to be the early 17th century when the then King of Gyaman, Nana Kofi Adinkra, disrespected the Asantehene and people of Asante by creating his own golden stool. The Adinkra symbols and cloth is said to have been made this time and called Adinkra after that Gyaman king was killed in battle. Adinkra is an Akan word, where “nkra” means message or goodbye in the Twi language, and as it stands the Adinkra symbols are used to convey meaning, proverbs, and lessons on the complexity of life. The cloth is also used as the chief mode of dressing during funerals to show sorry and express farewells.
In the first photo, I am posing with a piece of Adinkra cloth that I personally stamped. I choose this particular cloth because of its color scheme; the green and white reminded me of Nigeria, you may recognize the colors from the flag of the country which is my home and place of birth. In addition to choosing the cloth, I selected four Adinkra symbols after learning their meaning (from my shoulder downwards):
The first: Gye Nyame — meaning “except God” which stands for the omnipotence and immortality of God, the Supreme Being
The second: Sesa woruban — meaning “transformation or a new beginning” which allows one to change their life
The third: Nkyinkyim — meaning “zigzag/ twisting” which stands for Life’s path is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, or “Obra kwan ye nkyinkyimiie.”
The Fourth: Adinkrahene — meaning “greatness/ royalty” and diligent leadership. The symbol is the Adinkra King, the chief of all the Adinkra designs which formed the foundation of adinkra printing.
In a way, this cloth is a fusion of my experiences as a West African, with particular relevance to my identity as a Nigerian and the time I’ve been using and will use to learn in Ghana.
Adinkra cloth used for a funeral (left). Ntonso, Adinra Village (right).
For an online reference to an index of Adinkra symbols and their history, you can visit adinkra.org.