Patterns and Symbols
in Kente and Korhogo cloths

All the inlaid motifs woven on Kente and Korhogo cloth have a symbolic meaning, some well known to all, others known for the most part only among weavers. In the case of Kente, however, the finished cloth generally does not derive its name from these motifs but rather from the warp, which gives it the underlying theme, like the beat of a musical composition. On the bottom of this page are some links to a few samples of Kente and Korhogo symbols and patterns, giving their names and meanings.

If you've come to these pages searching for 'kente' you might be surprised by what you see here as kente cloth. In fact the examples here are the kente cloth woven by the Ewe people, who live along the eastern border of Ghana and the western border of Togo. While it has many similarities, it also has differences with that woven by the Ashanti, which is much more familiar to people outside of Ghana - as it's more popular patterns seem to be printed on any object which can be printed upon.

If you ask an Ewe weaver, he will tell you that the patterns the Ashanti weave are a subset of those he has learned. Should you ask an Ashanti weaver, no doubt, the story will be the other way around. Any discussion of which group influenced the other the most will be subject to some speculation; if you're interested in the subject we can recommend some books.

In particular African Majesty has some truly outstanding color plate samples of both group's weavings, in addition to an interesting text. To quote from this book on the subject of Ewe and Ashanti weavings : "Until the establishment of the Ashanti empire in the 17th century, with their taste for imported luxury cloth, many of the indigenous strip-weaving industries of West Africa were known for their simple output of cotton or, rarely, coarse local silk, blue-and-white or plain-coloured textiles. The sophistication demanded by the courts of the Ashanti empire encouraged the development of a hierarchy of Akan and other excellent weavers, such as the Ewe, to produce cloths for the royal family and their acolytes. The dazzle of colour and silk influenced the desires of the rulers and wealthy indigens, such as merchants, of the surrounding groups in the shadow of the Ashanti kingdom. It was the most versatile weavers who were prepared to take up the challenge of the pioneering Ashanti spirit for colour, and in this context it is the Ewe who proved to be the champions."(p.47)

There are two principal differences between the two groups. One is the tweed effect that the Ewe achieve by plying together different colored threads in many of their warps. The other is the presence of more figurative symbols in the inlaid motifs woven by the Ewes as opposed to the always geometric ones found in the Ashanti weavings.

Among both groups of course there will be examples of higher quality cloth and lower quality, based on the quality of the yarns used and the weaver's craftmanship. Historically, the people in present day Ghana are known to have traded goods for foreign cloths, only to unravel them and use the threads for their own weavings. The difference in the quality of yarns used - their durability and colorfastness - persists to this day of course, so if you're shopping for Kente cloth look out for quality! You're not likely to find it at souvenir shops, and its not cheap...

We digress. The purpose here is to present a sampling of a few of the symbols and patterns found in Ewe Kente and in Korhogo cloths, along with their meanings.

We hope you enjoy these. Have comments? Wish to add something? Then please sign our guestbook and tell us; we'd love to hear from others and offer everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions here and share their knowledge.


samples
Kente motifs can be separated into three categories. There are geometric forms which often are seen in many different variations of a same theme - sometimes it seems as many as the weaving process permits! Then there are the symbols which are representational; of flaura, fauna and objects. These come in two flavors: the simpler, older shapes and the more recent, more realistic motifs.

samples
The warp consists of roughly 240 threads (this varies somewhat). Each thread can be of a single color or, among the Ewe, 2 or 3 colors might be plied together. The colors of the warp generally dictate what patterns will be woven in and how the various strips will be combined to form the cloth.

samples
The inlaid motifs of Korhogo cloths are always geometric. There are over 80 motifs woven by the Malinke weavers of the northern Ivory Coast. The motifs are framed in a rectangular pattern which is introduced at either end by a longangun, an arrow-like pattern which represents the talking drum. A single motif can be woven in many different patterns, and two motifs may be combined.