As a Ghanaian, “cloth” – which is what we call it – has saturated my life from my earliest days. It swaddled me as I slept; was used to tie me to people’s backs as they travelled and worked and was worn for everyday and special occasions.
Cloth is worn by both men and women and is mostly a wax-printed fabric: making it hardy, long-wearing and easy to maintain. I still have a piece that my mother gave me when I was 15. The cloth itself is over 30 years old.
Kente, the national cloth, is an Asante (pronounced “Ashanti”) ceremonial cloth made from four inch hand-woven strips which are then sewn together into larger pieces of cloth. It is a royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance, with each cloth and each pattern having a name and a meaning. Each colour also has a symbolic meaning:
- black — maturation, intensified spiritual energy
- blue — peacefulness, harmony and love
- green — vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
- gold — royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
- grey — healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
- maroon — the colour of mother earth; associated with healing
- pink — associated with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
- purple — associatef with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
- red — political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death
- silver —serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon
- white — purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
- yellow — preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility
Cloth is bought in lengths of 6 yards. For the women, we use 2 yards for the top and 2 yards for the “slit” (skirt). The remaining 2 yards is used for a head wrap or alternatively draped around the shoulders or tied around the waist (called the “modesty”).
Every African woman knows a good seamstress (both male and female) that they go to to get their cloth made up. And lately, my sister has been trying out her dressmaking skills and has made a number of dresses based on Western designs.
One of the best things about cloth is its flexibility. The top below has been created by taking a 2 yard piece, wrapping it around the body and tying it off behind the neck and back. No sewing, completed in less than a minute and you’re good to go!
Cloth is saturated with colour and pattern, but also history, memories, stories and joy.
A very big “Thank You” to my mum and my sister who agreed to model for me for this post.
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AUTHOR: I am might war. I have a love of music, the written word, travel, Anime, polar bears, people and “sticking and colouring”.