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JOE OSAE-ADDO / GHANA: KENTE CLOTHING, 2015 Kente: the untold story. Kente!!! A cloth that evokes an emotive response from most Ghanaians. This material is a classic product of cultural recognition: we defend it with all our will and might, we share it with the world and hope that it is not abused or disrespected. Kente is synonymous with the Ashanti people of Ghana. Kente is a woven narrative of Ashanti history, capturing an imperial and cultural story which shaped pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Africa. Many mythologies surround how it first came to the attention of King Osei Tutu the First, the great builder of the Ashanti Empire in the 17th Century. Kente, as folklore tells us, was first woven by the Ashanti hunters who watched Ananse the spider weave her web. What is undeniable is that it was originally made of material that was not found in Ashantiland or the rest of Africa at the time. Its origins and heritage are linked with silk imported from foreign lands along the great Silk Road extending from Sichuan, China, all the way down to the Gold Coast of West Africa. This is clearly a material that links peoples in a common heritage, connecting artisanship across continents, maintaining the tenacity, will and dedication of a people over centuries. Kente’s royal lineage establishes a connection between the royal kingdoms of West Africa and the specialized silk farms of the Far East and the Indian subcontinent, a connection that was carefully nurtured by the women of the Ashanti, who traded silk, and by the men of the Ashanti, who wove it into royal yarns. These strands of silk were as valuable as gold, and were traded westwards with the empire builders, creating connections across Africa. The Ashanti received many great visitors and traders laden with cargoes of Kente for royal courts, but none is as well remembered as the great Zheng He. Folklore describes Zheng He as a great Chinese ambassador, bringing with him an armada of Chinese representatives with the goal of spreading knowledge of the greatness of the Ming Dynasty. He was one of the few ever to make the full journey along the Silk Road from the great heartlands of Mongolia, crossing India into Indonesia and the deserts of the Middle East, continuing to the shores of Cleopatra’s Egypt, loaded with caravans for the Songhai Empire of West Africa. His emissaries reached as far as Benin, Sokoto and Bayelsa, trading in Chinese goods, silk, salt and even ceramics, and amassing a great collection of goods to take home to Nanjing in China, some of which would play a major role in the formation of Asian societies. The royal courts of the Ashanti were wary of guests who might betray their loyalty for the sake of the dreaded scourge that afflicted Africa for centuries – the slavery perpetuated by marauding Arab armies and later the Western invasions of the Dutch, Danish, Portuguese and British with the aim of building empires. The Ashanti Empire was an African empire, built by the great Asantehene Osei Tutu, the first king of the Ashanti, the great warrior who brought together the different factions of the Akan, who ruled in an unbroken line down to the Great Yaa Asantewaa, the warrior queen whose armies finally put a stop to the British menace and in the process preserved a great culture, represented here today by the wondrous Kente cloth. The great lady Kente, on this incredible journey from China to Ashantiland, continues her journey across Africa. In Angola she advised the great kingdoms of Mbunda and Ndongo. She warned of the coming of the colonialists. She nurtured freedom fighters like Augustinho Neto and others, and warned of the dangers of imperialism and modernity. She still does. She then went to Mombasa, and on to the Cape of Good Hope. She forewarned people of The Great Trespassers and breast-fed Madiba into greatness. She visited the great kingdoms of Sokoto, Lagos and Kaduna, and they became her battleground. She preached religious tolerance and fidelity. She warned of the great menace of Boko Haram. She consulted with the great Ashanti Queen Yaa Asantewaa and fought in all her battles to liberate the Ashanti from the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese. She gave birth to Nkrumah; predicted the Cold War. She knew her creation would suffer, from Angola to the Maghreb. Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone were all very special treasures with abundant resources, but hid a dreaded scourge. We call it Ebola now. It has now come to pass that she takes care of her own. Her mantra is ‘We will survive.’ North West Africa, the Maghreb and the great kingdoms of the Pharaohs were her domain. Cleopatra was her daughter and confidante. She prompted Joseph in captivity to liberate the Jews. She introduced Bathsheba to the monarchs of Ethiopia, and stopped Mussolini in his tracks. Kente, you are Mother Africa. Modernity has been unkind to you, but you persevere and thrive all the same and are the connecting tissue of our diaspora: Kwame Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda, Che, King, Dubois, Makonnen, Lumumba, Nasser, Senghor and the rest have all been clothed by you, as has the Great Wall of the United Nations, as a symbol of peace. The colours, layers and shapes of Kente design speak of the Ashanti heritage, culture and future. Today you influence great works of art from Kere to El Anatsui. Kente strikes a chord all over the world. Courtesy of Amadu Baba BELONGING 99


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