The heavy, colorful fabric from Ghana is worn mostly as a wrap – on the waist by women, on the left shoulder by men. But this ceremonial attire was fast losing out among Ghanaians in the Diaspora, and they recently made an effort to revive it with cultural ceremonies known as “Kente Dances.” They were held here in the Washington, DC, area and in other cities on the East Coast and in the Middle West.
Paa Sam Kwasi is an organizer for the Middle West area. From Chicago, Illinois, he spoke with VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe, tracing the ceremonial origins of the Kente outfit. “Long time ago, when we had our independence, [when] people go to Parliament, that is what we wear. And because a lot of people traveled to these western countries, Kente almost disappeared from public places in Ghana. So basically what we’re trying to do is to revive Kente. Having all these Kente dances is to remind people not to forget where we come from and what we wore in our ethnic or cultural activities.”
Kwasi is impressed to see westerners patronize Kente, irrespective of the season or circumstance. “In stores like Wal-Mart, Vogue…you can find Kente. The first president of Ghana’s wife, a white woman, that’s what she wore, and the most popular Kente cloth, called Fathia Fata Nkrumah, was actually named after her…. In either summer or winter…I’ve seen African Americans in high office wear them.”
But he regrets that Kente’s manufacture is time-consuming, making it expensive. “Now I see that it is not quite affordable to all Ghanaians because it takes about 20 days to manufacture a whole piece…. The original one is priced between 200 and 500 dollars in the United States.”
Notwithstanding, Ghanaians still want to wear it, for a number of reasons. “First of all, Kente looks better on all Ghanaians than any other attire in the world! We want Ghanaians here to know that we have something we are all proud of, and we don’t want people that travel to lose it. Even in this country, in embassies, you see Kente all over in the form of pictures, banners and all that stuff. So we just maintain it because of our cultural heritage and background.”