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Kente Stoles: The Origin And Significance

All college and university students know they will receive a Graduation Stole upon completion of their course. A Graduation Kente Stole, also known as the kente cloth has a long and deep history that is sacred and cannot be taken for granted. The Graduation kente stole comes in diverse colours and designs, representing various significant meanings. The kente cloth originates from Ghana among an ethnic group called the Ashanti. For as long as 375 years, kente cloth has been used for many events throughout the world, as a rite of passage for diverse occasions.  Although the kente cloth is loved and widely used in West Africa and other countries, many people do not know the history behind this beautiful cloth.

Two brothers, Ameya and Kurugu who hailed from a village called Bonwire found a spider. Interesting enough, they became amazed at how the spider was spinning its webs to create beautiful patterns within the webs. With this inspiration, the brothers decided to create patterned cloths just like what the spider had done with its web. They made their first kente cloth with this amazing idea. The first Kente Cloth and the Western version that was made were weaved with fibres from a raffia palm tree. The fibres were black and white and the palm tree is grown in the African continent, Philippines and Madagascar. It takes about 20 to 25 years for the raffia palm tree to fully grow and 5 years to grow its fruits. The fibres are used to weave baskets, hats and many more.

A lot of university and college students around the world today wear kente cloths for popular and important ceremonies like graduation. The brain behind the wearing of kente stole for graduation ceremonies took its root from the Pan African Movement in the 1950’s which began in the African Diaspora. W.E.B Du Boris created the emotional and psychological idea of the Pan-Africanism in the Western Hemisphere. The aim of the Pan-African movement was to bring success in educational, psychological, political and economic power closer to the people of the African Diaspora and people of other races around the world which happens to be the idea of Pan-Africanism.

Kente cloth represents how far the African- Americans have come and for this reason, highly cherished by those who were part of the Pan-African movement. The kente cloth created a change in the educational lives which led to an economic transformation. On the 15th of May, 1993, a ceremony dabbed “Commencement Ceremony” was birth by four people from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Jerome “Skip” Hutson, Director of Minority Affairs, Dr. Franklin Simpson, Director of Affirmative Action, formed a four faculty member panel who met with two English professors, C. James Trotman  and Drs. Christian Awuyah. They came together to form and organize the ceremony to celebrate the graduation of their students. The graduates wore Kente Stole during their graduation ceremony. Today, Kente Stoles are worn by middle school, high school, college and university students for their graduation ceremonies as a representation of the tough journey of learning, their history of being a part of the African Diaspora and themselves.  Students receive the Kente Stole as a privilege and a celebration for their hard work and experiences in completing their education at colleges and universities in Ghana and other parts of the world such as Howard University in Washington D.C., FAMU in Tallahassee, Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, and many more.

Every Kente cloth you see has a meaning and every piece of its beautiful design communicates something important. The gold in the cloth symbolizes status or serenity, yellow symbolizes fertility, blue symbolizes pure spirit or harmony, black symbolizes union with ancestors or spiritual awareness, green symbolizes renewal, and red depicts passion. Purple symbolizes femininity since many women wear the colour; brown signifies healing as it is associated with a mother, pink signifies feminists but it represents the feminine way of life. Silver also symbolizes peace and joy while black connects us to people who lived before us. Long bands or strips of fabric with each between 6”-10” wide are sewn together and assembled to make the Kente cloth. The bands are made of sheets of alternating designs. The weavers create a patchwork design through a complex warp (the threads are pulled from left to right and from right to left while weaving) and weft (up and down orientation of the threads).   

The weft and warp motifs form a collection of craftwork. The kente weavers give each cloth a name indicating sexuality, social status or clan. The AberewaBene for example means “a wise old man which symbolizes wisdom and maturity.”  Other Kente designs take their names form proverbs that reflect the Asante worldview and philosophy. Owu nhye da also means “Death has no fixed date” and is said to encourage people to live right, since death comes unexpectedly and has no penitence. Nkum me fie na nkosu me aboten means “Don’t kill me and mourn me in public”. It is a caution against duplicitous and two-faced impulse of human nature. The beautiful and rich cultural kente we see take its meanings from clever colour combinations with warp with several weft designs. Kente cloth made the spoken rhetoric of proverbs materialize and made its circulation among the Asante easier through sartorial textiles. 

Whenever you don a Kente stole around your shoulder, know that you are testifying to the “dream and the hope of the slave” and the ancient wisdom of Africa. Through the poetics of Kente, the Asante stylized their ethics and values. The Diasporic genealogy of Kente is a weave of a pattern that takes its root from the African pride and knowledge across the Middle Passage through to the gowned and capped bodies of African and Black American graduates.  Walking in the way of the ancestors is considered wise. The graduation Kente cloth brings joy and peace to the wearer and gives a sense of fulfilment.

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