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The Royal Art of Kente Cloth

Create a paper weaving in the style of the Ashanti people of West Africa. In this project artists learn the meanings of colors and shapes woven into the beautiful patterns.

  • Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Kente cloth is the strip-woven cloth made by the Ashanti people and other ethnic groups in Ghana, West Africa. African mythology links kente cloth to nature’s weaver, Anansi the spider. Anansi symbolizes wisdom and is a trickster in the West African tales and folklore. Kente cloth is a ceremonial cloth that is handwoven on a horizontal treadle loom. Weavers create strips that are four inches wide and then sewn together into larger pieces of cloth, or wrappers that are worn by both men and women. The weavers of kente cloth are generally men and boys. Fathers teach their sons to weave the cloth, passing the tradition from generation to generation. The first kente cloth was woven after the end of the 19th century. From 1924 – 35 the Renaissance in Ashanti royal arts began.
    2. To introduce this lesson display a kente cloth art print or (if possible) an actual kente cloth. Have a map of Ghana and West Africa available for students to observe. Helpful resources for kente cloth images can be found on Google Images. An outstanding resource is available from Smithsonian National Museum of African Art: http://africa.si.edu/ . Go to: Collections and type in kente cloth.
    3. Preparation for the art lesson, Kente Cloth Paper Weaving, is listed sequentially below: First, precut paper looms and paper strips for weaving. You will need sturdy paper for the loom. Cut paper to 6” x 18”. Students draw a one inch border all the way around this large single sheet. The dimensions for weaving on this loom will be 5”x17”. Students measure across the top [the 5” (12.7 cm) measurement within the border] and mark every ¼ inch (0.6 cm). Next, fold the paper exactly in half and instruct students to follow their measurement lines and to cut on the fold to the 1”(2.5 cm) border. This creates the warp of the loom. At this time, ask students to write their names and other information for identification within the border of their ‘loom’.
    4. Cut strips of a variety of paper; red, black, blue, brown, yellow, orange, purple, etc. Each color has a meaning. (See chart below) so students may make their color choices accordingly. As a management tool, use bins or trays to keep the like colors together. These strips will be the weft in the weaving. The strips should be cut ¼ inch wide and 6 inches long to match the dimensions of the loom. If working with younger students it may be helpful to cut the weft and the warp at ½ inch rather than ¼ inch.
    5. Students have the opportunity to create weavings using contrasting colors choosen according the Ashanti meanings. Demonstrate the weaving technique to students. Show them how to glue the ends of the weft to the paper loom to keep it in place. Discuss over and under pattern and repeating colors throughout the weaving. Challenge students to research the meaning of color in Ashanti Kente Cloth Weavings. This information can be found online.
    6. Older students may use markers to add to the design of their weaving. The line designs should repeat and unify the overall pattern in the weaving. Use simple horizontal and vertical lines to extend and embellish the paper strip design.
    7. Display students work in the classroom or school. Try laying the finished products side by side to create one large weaving. This is like a strip of actual kente cloth as the pieces are combined by sewing together. Ask students to analyze the various choices in color and arrangement of design.
  • Standards

    LA: Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

    MATH: Draw and identify lines and angles, and classify shapes by properties of their lines and angles.

    SS: Explore and describe similarities and differences in the ways groups, societies, and cultures address similar human needs and concerns.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of Culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    VA: Distinguish different ways art is used to represent, establish, reinforce, and reflect group identity.

    VA: Identify and interpret works of art or design that reveal how people live around the world and what they value.

    VA: Demonstrate openness in trying new ideas, materials, methods, and approaches in making works of art and design.

  • Adaptations

    Display cloth made by cultures other than the Ashanti people. Compare and contrast the works. Discuss why there are such differences in the materials used and the designs. Are all of the types of cloth woven?

    Use this activity as a great starting point for a social studies lesson on West Africa. Using maps and other resources student can extend their learning by looking up information about major cities, political history, population and products of the various West African cultures.

    Investigate additional meanings used by the Ashanti culture. Distribute graph paper and have students design a pattern using the following types of lines and their meanings: Wavy line means stream of life; Straight cross is the enduring spirit and power of nature; Chevrons mean new life in grown things; Spiral is indecision, growth, peace and mercy; Zig-zag lines mean common sense. Shapes have meanings too: Square stands for masculinity; Oval means femininity; Circle is the presence of God; Triangle means charm and friendship

    Read the story of Anansi and the Turtles (for example) http://www.mythsandtales.com/id14.html Discuss questions such as time, setting, characters, what problem is faced and how was it solved? How does this story compare to similar stories from other cultures that you know about? How is this story unique to what you know about the Ashanti people?

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