After a bumpy two-hour ride on a crowded tro-tro – Ghana’s public transportation in the form of not-so-gently used 15-passenger-vans – my friend, Tyanna, a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I arrived at our destination. Bonwire is a village located in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, outside of Kumasi. Our purpose was to learn about and make kente cloth.
First thing’s first – we signed our names in the kente cloth museum’s guest book, and paid our fare. Little did we know, after a quick tour of the museum, we had more time on our hands than we anticipated. The sunny skies darkened, and the rain started to pour. We filled the next 20 minutes having conversations with the two tour guides on grant writing and economic development for their village, and, of course, kente cloth.
Kente cloth traces as far back as 3000 B.C. Its process begins with locally grown cotton that is spun into yarn. The yarn – that is now also made out of silk, lurex or rayon – is wound up on a bobbin, and the warp thread is prepared. The warp thread is then hooked up to the loom where the weaving begins. The narrow strips of kente cloth are sewn together to be worn as a wrap. Named “royal cloth” in its origin, today, kente cloth is still considered sacred, and worn on special occasions in some African cultures.
Once we were educated on the rich history of kente cloth, we were ready to weave!
The poly-rhythmic coordination of throwing the bobbin between the yarn in one hand, beating the yarn with the reed in the other, and peddling the loom with both feet was very challenging, but that’s just for solid colors. The complex designs require maneuvering several colors of yarn at once. Although becoming a Master Weaver may not be on my radar, having fun trying surely was. Mission accomplished!