Traditional African Textiles Centre, Kumasi

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The scene was at the ring’s Palace in the historical capital of the Ashanti Kingdom, Kumasi. Many from all walks of life had gathered to witness the last night of the annual cultural festivities. As all and sundry mingled and intermingled, cultural berries were being broken, taming places into people. Representative of the length and breadth of Africa were various African artists distinct and unique in their African attire. With me was a wealthy Black American developers, reaching toward Africa for cultural S4antity, and hawing traced his roots back to Ghana had not only token on the name Kofi, but in an eloquent statement and public declaration of Black pride, had stepped forward and enveloped himself in Africa quite literally with a Ghanaian Northern attire, the loose and wide trousers and the smock. The drums ware anticipating and the spectators were finding it increasingly difficult to contain themselves. Everywhere feet were being lifted for the drums spoke a rhythmic message to than, a message evoking a response. We waited in anticipation. The last set of dancers had just left the stage. In their beautifully designed Akwete cloths from Nigeria, the young women had virtually hypnotized their audience. The dance had been vigorous. Mind.bagg1ing it was to think, that each of those patterns or motifs had a meaning ad that a great deal of significance had been imbued into the entire decision. From the cheerful, vivacious and animated spirit of the dancers, it was easy to believe that the cloths had imparted to the weavers the joyous feeling or MNA with which each weaves had been done. There seemed no end to the mystifying atmosphere in the air. While ire waited, Kofi looked around with interest. On the row next to us eat en elderly gentleman draped gorgeously in a magnificent beaded costume. He wears a beaded crown that was surmounted by a dozen or more beaded birds in the traditional style. The caftan was a typical Yoruba garment. Quite a few metres of fabric must have been used. Embroidered on it were over a million little beads. The embroidery simulated the “over’s and under” of a braid. There seemed to be no beginning or end of the strands involved. “How Intricate end magnificent” he exclaimed excitedly “what does the symbol stand for” I locked wore closely at the design. One strand lay on top of the other. “Our elders are above us” I explained and then added “Or ‘He who learns teaches” It was time for the next dance. But for the foreigners among the gathering, the master of ceremonies would have been redundant for the message conveyed ‘by the drums announcing the dances was better understood than any man could ever make himself understood. Unable to hold on any longer, those seated at the back got on to their feet while those in front restricted and imprisoned their position could not rise to their feet fox fear of obstructing the view of those behind them. That is all except one. He was elderly and one would not have believed he had so much strength and energy in his seemingly frailing body. Somehow, judging from his response to the war music one was led to believe that the music gave him memories perhaps he had once fought in a war....... In one seconds the sloth that had covered his whole body except for one shoulder was off him and wrapped around his waist with a huge sort of knot. That was the dressing symbolizing war. The next second he was on stage, uninvited but nevertheless there. But it was not his animation that captivated Kofi it was the cloth that intrigued 1im. Draped around the gentleman’s waist was a yard of white cotton material that bad black prints or symbols in it. A group of prints occupied an area each area having been demarcated lines that seemed to have been drawn from a comb put in some dye stuff. Along the warp edge of the fabric was a Joint concealed by the embroidery of brightly coloured thread. Kofi sat fascinated by the attire for a while them locked at me questioningly. I proceeded to explain. It was the Adinkra cloth, a cloth held in high esteem by royal% and valued for its traditional means of conveying a symbolic message. Incorporated in the entire design of the fabric were about different patterns. One pattern stood for defiance1 I explained. This was “Aya”, the fern, which tells us “I am not afraid of you. I am independent of you” then a circular symbol with blunt curved projections and 2 teeth like designs symbolized unity. “Bite not one another” it told us “Avoid conflicts”. Before long the rythm of the drumming changed. It was slower, more solemn and quieter. A sudden stillness fell on all, even the drummers. Then she came in. She wears a wig which looked more like a black fibred bowl studded with Jewelry. Around her neck, wrists, ankles and knees were priceless gold ornaments. But it was her attire that emanated a cosmic effect. She wears a dark cloth, draped around her like a fitting skirt that extended above her breast. But little of this cloth was seen for over this was another1 the rich gorgeous magnificent kente cloth the national cloth of Ghana. Wrapped around her and loosely thrown over her left shoulder, she was a walking or rather dancing work of art. Each colour had a significance, each pattern held a massages various strips had been sewn together to arrive at this size of cloth. As she dances the graceful dance of Adowa, the loose end of her cloth slipped making bare her shoulder. Holding the tip she gracefully and proudly swung it around her shoulder. Again and again it slipped and she would with a calculated gesture throw it over her shoulder. It was clear now that it was deliberate. “Why don’t we see more such African attire around”? Kofi asked. “Because of the Western influence” I replied simply. He was baffled first, then indignant. “Why would anyone want to exchange such magnificence such elegance for meaningless fabric?” then it struck him “The art and technique will be lost, together with these fabrics if the situation is not salvaged” he concluded pensively. I explained that the traditional method of producing textiles were being seriously threatened by increasing urbanization and industrialization and that these crafts would undoubtedly disappear if the vital personal social and aesthetic needs they can fulfil are not recognized adequately and in time. “But we can’t let that happen”, his emotions were visibly roused. “This is a culture deep and pregnant with meaning. We not only have to preserve these textiles but we must project and promote them” He must for a while, but only for short while. Then he turned to me “would you” he asked enthusiastically eyes aglow with imagination and creativity, “design for me a cotton for the production of such magnificent textils?”
A thesis presented to the Department of Architecture, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Post Graduate Diploma in Architecture.