The Legend of Kente Cloth
According to Akan legends, the Kente cloth was inspired by the elaborate web designs of a mythic spider, Ananse. Nearly 400 years ago, two friends, Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban, went hunting into a forest where they came upon a spider making a web. They stood there for two days watching and taking note of the spider’s intricate designs.
When they returned home, the two began to implement the designs they saw in the clothes they wore using fibers from a raffia tree. These first designs were called kents. The earliest cloths were made with white cotton enhanced with some indigo patterns.
The Cloth of Kings
The wealthy West African empire of Ashanti (Asante) lasted from 1701 to 1957. At its height, this empire was at the epicenter of the West African silk trade with the Portuguese. The trade brought in exotic silk that was used to enhance kente cloth.
The first Ashanti emperor-king was Osei Tutu (c. 1695 – 1717), who was one of the first to wear the elaborate cloth. Even though kente cloth began as an Ashanti symbol for the monarchy, it was eventually available to everyone.