Indigo dye was the foundation of numerous textile traditions throughout West Africa. For centuries before the introduction of synthetic dyes the ability to transform everyday white cotton into prized deep blue cloth was a mysterious and highly valuable skill passed on by specialist dyers from generation to generation. From the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara to the grassland kingdoms of Cameroon, indigo cloth signified wealth, abundance and fertility.
Stephen Badu, marketing director of Ghanaian fabric company Premium African Textiles, recently told the Christian Science Monitor that pirated designs—predominantly from China—make up about 60 percent of all textiles sold in Ghana and often retail for half the price of authentic product, forcing several local manufacturers to close in recent years.
Kente Ghanaian textile is from Ghana, a country located in West Africa. Kente is a cloth worn by royalty. It is hand woven just like the Aso-oke (Nigerian textile) in wooden looms and is of very high worth. It comes in a variety of patterns, colours and designs, each of which have different meanings.
According to Ghanaian mythology, Kente textile was first made when two friends watched how a spider wove its web. They created the Kente cloth by mimicking the actions of the spiders. It is said that this story, whether true or not, shows the harmony between Ghanaians and Mother Nature.
Looking back in the olden times, the Kente cloth is reserved for the Kings and is associated with royalty and sacredness. Even in recent times, it is worn only during important times. Though the cloth has widespread acceptance and usage it is still held in high esteem among the Akan tribe and the Ghanaians in general.
The Kente cloth is one of the most famous and wanted fabric in the whole of Africa. For the Ghanaians, this represents the history, philosophy, oral literature, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles of life.
Bride and Groom Attire
In a typical Yoruba marriage, Aso-Oke is fabric of choice. It is the Yoruba ceremonial cloth. It is considered the pinnacle of all fabrics for Yoruba people on occasions like weddings, birthdays, celebrations of life of deceased parents, chieftaincy title ceremonies, and any other important commemorations.
This Aso-Oke is hand woven with special thread that has been soaked in home-made dye. That was before this age of new technology. The three main colours of Aso-Oke fabrics are:
- Al’aari: rich maroon
- Etu: navy blue
- Sanyan: very light brown with strips of cream
Kitenge is an East African cotton fabric printed in various colours and distinctive patterns. It has its origin from Kiswahili kitengele. Kitenge is sometimes worn as sarong by women, or as a baby sling. Some of the African countries where kitenge is worn are Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sudan. It is an informal and inexpensive fabric with a distinctive border and political slogans.
In Swahili the plural form is ‘vitenge’ while in Tonga it is ‘zitenge’. It forms an important part of the East African culture. Kitenge fabric has a long history and gives the Eastern African region an identity. Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Kim Kardashian and Solange are some of the celebrities that have been spotted on the red carpet wearing Kitenge designs.
In Kenya the Kitenge festival is a popular event held periodically and is meant to highlight the varied uses of Kitenge fabric. This vibrant cotton fabric is wax printed, using rotary printing machines. Most often it’s a multicolored, dark wax print on a lighter background. The printing on the cloth is done by a traditional batik technique.