HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COAST
?A LOOK AT GHANA?S UNTAPPED RESOURCES
?You?ve always been a tourist here. You just didn?t know it? ? Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner.
Bonwire is a town in Ejisu-Juaben Municipal district, a district of the Ashanti Region of Ghana. It is the home of the Akan Kente cloth. Located 18km on the Kumasi-Mampong Road, Bonwire is popular for Kente weaving.
Kente is a colourful Ghanaian traditional fabric which is worn mostly on important occasions and celebrations. Join Hidden Treasures as we make a trip to the Ashanti region once again, this time to learn how Kente, one of Ghana?s most revered fabrics, is made. Come along.
Bonwire Kente Weaving Village
Kente was developed around 17th Century A.D by the people of Ashanti Kingdom; it can be traced to the long tradition of weaving in Africa dating back to circa 3000 BC. The origin of Kente is grounded in both legends and history. For the legend, a man named Ota Karaban and friend, Kwaku from a town called Bonwire (a leading town for the production of Kente in Ghana) had their weaving lessons from a spider that was weaving its web. They tried to do same by weaving a beautiful raffia fabric. They later told their story to the Nana (Chief) Bobie, who in turn passed on the important news to the paramount chief of the Ashantis- the Asantehene. The Asantehene did not hesitate adopting the fabric for all Asantis as a national cloth for special occasions like funerals, festivals, naming ceremonies and marriage ceremonies. Afterwards the production was improved but the name was retained which subsequently became ?Kente?. It is also held that Kente was designed originally from Bonwire. Bonwire is located 18 km off the Kumasi ? Mampong road. It is a settlement with hundreds of Kente weavers.
Historically, the origin of kente weaving could be traced to the traditions of the ancient West African kingdoms between 300 A.D and 1600 A.D. Some historians are of the view that Kente is a development of various weaving traditions that existed around the 17th century. Nevertheless, while the Kente Cloth may have its origin from around the 11th century of West African weaving traditions, the art of Kente weaving developed earlier in Africa. In some parts of Africa, archeological excavations have revealed weaving instruments like spindles whores and loom, weights in early Moroe Empire.
Kente, now Ghana?s national cloth, is one indigenous handicraft that has won world wide recognition. There are many types of Kente each with its own symbolism and name, which tells the history, culture and social practice of the weavers of the cloth.
Declared a national cloth on the attainment of independence on 6th march 1957, Kente is used for different purposes and at different functions. It is important to note that Kente is used not only for its beauty but also for its representational imperative. The weaver derive names and meaning from moral values, oral literature, philosophical concepts, human behavior, individual achievements, animal life, proverbs and social code of conduct.
The aesthetic beauty of a kente cloth is affected by the colour symbolism. Colours are chosen for both their symbolic effect and visual effect. A weaver?s choice of a colour may also be influenced by his tradition or a matter of preference. Gender plays a key role in the selection of colours as women prefer pink, purple, light yellow and light blue etc while males cherish black, dark blue, dark yellow, orange, red and dark green.
There are about 50 types of Kente patterns with the most reputable and expensive of all the patterns in the Asanti culture being ?Adwene asa? which is translated as ?my skills are exhausted?. It is indeed the last word in the Kente cloths, one in which the strips join all the known designs. It was created only for the kings of Asanti and only one master craftsman can weave it. Sometimes weavers compose new designs of honour. An example is the design called ?Fathia Fata Nkrumah? literally translated as ?Nkrumah merits Fathia?. This design was created in 1960 for Ghana?s first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and his Egyptian wife madam Fathia.
A variety of hand woven Kente fabrics are obtained in many of the local shops at Bonwire. Kente is woven on ancient hand looms. They operate the loom with their hands and feet. The needle, which tread the wrap are placed between the toes. A shuttle passing from the left hand to the right hand in deft movement inserts the weft.
Simultaneous with the action comes the Kente loom music, a well-known noisy Kro-hin-kro ? Kro-hin-kro. This rhythm is made by the reverberating shuttle as they entwine the coloured yarns smoothly over one another to produce the dazzling double ? weave strips of cloth, eight feet long by four inches wide. The strips are sewn together to make the required sizes.
One of the great things about being in the Kumasi is that there are many delightful little villages scattered close by. They are all within an hour of Kumasi and very easy to visit. One of the most famous villages is the kente-weaving village of Bonwire. This is the home of the kente cloth in Ghana.
Kente cloth originated from the Akan tribe and in time it has become the most well-known African textile. The Ashanti people still regard it of high importance and it remains very popular and many are seen wearing it. Every colour that is on the kente cloth means something and all the symbols have different meanings. They use cotton, linen and silk as the base material and the method of weaving varies from single, double and triple.
Bonwire was about a 45 minute ?tro tro? (public transport) ride from Kejetia, costing 45 pesewas. I had never been there before so I had no idea where to go so I was led by this one man to where they were weaving the kente. There was a boy who looked no older than 15 weaving kente and the man claimed he was the master weaver of the village! I later found out that there was a master weaver in Bonwire, but he did not work on Sundays. So already having lots of experience with these Ghanaian sellers and knowing he will lead me to his shop and give me an ?Obroni? price (a highly inflated price reserved just for the white people!), I said goodbye to him and proceeded to look for other shops.
I was lucky enough to meet a nice college student called Vincent, who showed me to a big building where lots of weavers sell their products, a place called Export Production Village. Here you can learn step by step how they make kente cloth as well as the different types of weaving.
I went at a time when there were no other white people so naturally I got the attention of all the weavers there. It was nice and annoying at the same time, but I managed to get a nice scarf for a good price and they explained in detail what each colour and symbol meant. They let me sit down on the workplace and weave a little bit as well.
If you ever want to buy traditional kente cloth, then Bonwire is one of the best places to go. A lot of the kente cloth that you can buy in Kumasi actually comes from Bonwire, so to make sure you get a cheap price, go and visit there!
From Accra or any of the major bus stations in the various regions, public transport can easily get you to Kumasi. You can conveniently get to Bonwire from Kumasi in just about an hour drive. Trotros (public transport), taxis, rented cars, metro mass transit are options to use.