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What does the black kente cloth mean?

The kente cloth is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group of South Ghana. Over time, the use of kente cloth grew beyond the Akan people to reflect the Pan-African movement and pride in African heritage. Today, the kente cloth is worn worldwide and represents a celebration of African culture, pride, and black awareness.

History and Origins

The kente cloth has a rich history dating back to the 17th century with the Akan people of Ghana. According to legend, two Akan weavers named Kurugu and Ameyaw created the first kente cloth. The word ‘kente’ comes from the Akan word ‘kenten’ which means basket. Historians believe this refers to the basket-like pattern of the first woven kente cloth.

The original kente cloths were made of thin strips of handwoven silk fabric. Traditional kente patterns each had their own special meanings and were only worn during sacred ceremonies. Over time, cotton was introduced which allowed the cloths to be washed and the designs evolved to reflect more abstract concepts like proverbs, historical events, popular sayings, and meanings.

Significance of Colors and Patterns

Kente cloths traditionally featured vibrant colors with unique and complex patterns. Each color and pattern held specific meanings and representations:

Color Meaning
Red Blood, sacrifice, life, strength
Blue Peace, harmony, love, tenderness
Green Vegetation, planting, harvest, growth
Gold Royalty, wealth, high status, glory
White Purification, sanctity, innocence
Black Maturation, spiritual energy, mourning
Silver Serenity, purity, joy
Yellow Preciousness, fertility, beauty

Some of the most common kente patterns include:

  • Hwe me so – meaning “my abilities exceed all”
  • Fa wo hwe – meaning “there is no one like you”
  • Akoben – war horn symbolizing bravery and valor
  • Epa – handcuffs representing law, justice, slavery
  • Woforo dua pa a – meaning “when you climb a good tree”

The Black Kente Cloth

The black kente cloth holds special significance. The black strip of the kente is believed to represent maturation, spiritual energy, and mourning. Black evokes strong emotions and is associated with the time before birth and after death.

In Ghana, widows wear the black kente cloth during a period of mourning after the death of their husband. The black strip in the kente represents the deep sorrow and loss felt after the passing of a loved one. It is a symbol of the mourning process.

More recently, the black kente cloth has come to represent a celebration of African American culture and pride. After being popularized by a number of African American public figures and celebrities, the black kente cloth became a powerful political symbol of unity and a distinctive representation of black identity.

The Black Kente Cloth in Politics

In the political arena, the black kente cloth gained significant prominence following the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Starting in the 1960s, the black liberation flag which used the pan-African colors of red, black, and green became a new symbol of Black Power and pride.

By the 1980s and 1990s, Jesse Jackson adopted the black kente cloth as part of his political campaigns. This inspired other politicians, activists, and public figures to wear the black kente cloth as well. Eventually, the black kente scarf became a popular political accessory.

In 2020, House Democrats wore black kente cloth scarves and took a knee in the Capitol Hill hallway to honor George Floyd and other victims of racial violence. This symbolic act showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cultural Significance

Beyond politics, the black kente cloth became a prominent cultural symbol celebrating black awareness and African American pride. The cloth represents shared ancestry, heritage, and traditions.

Many African Americans embrace the black kente for its connections to their African roots. It has become a symbol of the African diaspora and being part of the global black community.

The black kente cloth is commonly worn during graduations, weddings, cultural events, galas, and other celebrations of Black culture. Scenes featuring people with kente cloths are also visible in movies, music videos, and other forms of media.

Overall, the black kente cloth represents unity, community, heritage, pride, and creative expression for many African Americans worldwide.


From its origins with the Akan people of Ghana to its modern global influence, the black kente cloth carries profound cultural symbolism. Historically, the black kente strip signified mourning and loss. Over time, the cloth evolved into an emblem of African American pride and awareness.

Today, this vibrant black, red, and green cloth connects Black people across the diaspora to their shared roots and empowers them to celebrate their heritage. The black kente scarf remains a significant representation of identity, activism, and Black culture in America and around the world.