This past Thursday our art class took a field trip to Bonwire and the Ntonso Adinkra Village. Bonwire is the main production center of Kente Cloth, a traditional Asante textile which is weaved in long strips that are many times later sewed together into one large piece. We are weaving our own mini-kente cloths on small frame looms for our art class, but this was our first experience seeing how real kente is weaved. The looms they use are large floor looms with two foot pedals that make the weaving a lot faster and easier. After our own slow manual work it was quite amazing to see just how fast these weavers are able to complete their strips. It is still tedious work, but much aided by the complexity of the pulley system on the loom.
We then drove to a second kente center, still in Bonwire. This was a dual weaving center and selling hub. It was very similar to the art markets we encountered in Accra–people at your side every minute trying to selling you something for a ‘good price.’ Once we got inside the building it wasn’t quite as bad, though the merchants would stick their heads in the window (they weren’t allowed in) and ask us to please come outside and look at their goods. There were some really beautiful cloths there though. All the seniors in our group got long strips to wear at graduation over their gowns.
After finally shaking off all the sellers (they even climbed onto the bus with us!) we made our way to Ntonso, the village renown for its adinkra cloth. Adinkra is a print textile that means ‘farewell.’ More specifically it is an Asante word that can be broken down into Adi which means ‘a departure’ and nkra which means ‘message.’ The cloth is traditionally worn for funerals, and it is printed with symbols that are thought to take a message to the dead or to carry forth this message from the deceased. A black cloth symbolizes sorrow and a red cloth symbolizes anger at an unjust death. There are many different symbols, all with proverbial meanings that are then printed in black ink on these cloths.
We first walked through the village first to see where the dye is made. The dye is made from the bark of the badie tree. The bark is pounded into a pulp manually using giant wooden pestle as big as a tree branch. We actually got to try doing this–we each pounded for about 30 seconds and after that time (in the full heat of the sun) I think I can confidently say we admire those who perform this 8 or so hour process of breaking down the bark. After pounding the bark is boiled for several days and treated until it becomes a glistening, thick black fluid.
After seeing this process we made our way back to the center building that we began at and learned how to carve our own stamps. The stamps are traditionally made out of calabashes, which are otherwise used as gourds for palm wine in the West African tradition. One of the workers cut us each a small square into which we sketched and then carved out whichever symbol we chose. It was a tedious process because you had to carve in such a way that you left the right parts of your design raised. It was definitely rewarding though.
And that’s where we ended for the day. After a lively oral quiz on what we had learned that day given to us by David, our teacher for the day, we all piled on the bus and went back to the guest house. We will be returning on Monday to use our stamps to print our own cloth.