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Despite the uncertainty that comes when determining that specific period when people started wearing clothes, anthropologists argue that the practice began between 100 to 500 millenniums ago. Archeologists also argue that various elements used in making garments included raw materials, such as furs, hides and skins, leaves and grasses, as well as shells and bones (Fianu, 2007, p. 12). During this time, clothes were either tied or draped.
On the discovery of the importance of woven fibers, animal hides were used for advancing the basketry techniques among the Neolithic cultures. These advancements were of great significance to the modern-day textile industries. In line with the history of clothes, the history of textile industries came. To advance in clothing, humans had the responsibility to discover techniques, such as spinning and weaving. Basing on the fact that dressing techniques were not the same in the different cultures, communities adopted unique approaches of dressing. For instance, in the Akan groups, the Asante had adopted a unique way of dressing. Most archeologists argue that Adinkra was derived from the African-American quilt.
An argument brought forward to support this point is that, since slavery was at its pick at the time, Adinkra was exported to America. In line with understanding the origins of the Adinkra, the aim of this paper is to trace the evolution of the Adinkra and determine its connection with the African-American quilt.
History of the Akan Dressing
Despite the little history of cloth production, archeologists have established sites that closely define the history of clothing. In West Africa, these Archeologists cited the use of woven clothes dating way back in the 9th century CE. With approximately 20 million people, the Akans are considered to be the largest ethnic community in West Africa. As the largest ethnic group, the Akan people are found in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Like any other community, the Akan people dress according to their culture. Although the Akan people used clothing, how the Asante people wore when compared to the other groups brought a difference.
For instance, while Asante’s men wear Danta (Knickers or shorts) without wearing a shirt underneath, other members of the Akan group wear jumpers before putting on the piece of cloth. As an undergarment of the time, Danta was made of a strip (Gomez, 2009, p. 41). While examining the history of clothing among the Akans, it is important to focus on the Asante because they are among the earliest inhabitants of Ghana. As cotton growers, the Asante pioneered in transforming the clothing industry in Ghana.
The African-American Quilts
Just as the Adinkra, the history of African-American quilts is confusing. However, in line with its relevance, African-American quilts have attracted studies. In line with its history, the skilled women who worked in sugar plantations alongside other wealthy households weaved, sewed, and quilted garments (Polakoff, 1980, p. 5). Slaves who worked in plantations did not mind to make quilts. For this reason, they took the little time after work to perfect their quilting skills. However, the contentious issue that surrounded the quilt is that because of many similar characteristics it has with the Adinkra, most people assume the two have a connection.
As far as the history of clothing among the Akan is concerned, they developed the Adinkra (stamped patterns). It is uncertain that the Asante Adinkra patterns are reflected in today’s clothing (Fianu, 2007, p. 34). As far as the history of their clothing is concerned, both the contemporary and the historical accounts indicate that the Adinkra came from the Akan after many Africans from the moment of the rise of slavery in America.
Such symbols on the Moslem amulets among the Asante people came after the spread of the Islamic jihad in the early 19th century (Polakoff, 1980, p. 7). People in West Africa gradually adopted them with the assumption that they were charms of good-luck by the followers of the ancient African religious beliefs.
For the longest time in history, the Asante had dominated the West African region. The Asante was considered to be the most powerful group of the Asante people. European slave traders found it difficult to describe not only their rituals but also their spectacular artistry of carvings and jewelry. These carvings and jewelry were primarily commissioned by the royalty of their Kingdom (Gomez, 2009, p. 40).
The advancement of the textile industry among the Asante people came as a result of two primary factors. They included their ability to control the trade routes and huge sales they made to the European traders. The Asante people were rarely sold into slavery as a form of punishment. To support this view, it is evident that the number of Asante slaves in America is very insignificant.
The Origins of the Adinkra
The most common type of Textiles among the Asante was the Adinkra cloths. The Asante wore the Adinkra during special occasion and was characterized by a repetitively stamped fabrics. These fabrics were made of small black motifs. The Adinkra were usually found in white, red, and brown fabrics. As far as the Asante people are concerned, the Adinkra clothes originated from the Akan Kingdom, known as Gyaman. The Gyaman was attacked and defeated by the Akan Kingdom in the year 1818 (Fianu, 2007, p.54). After assassinating their King, Kofi Adinkra, the Akan Kingdom took his patterned wrapper as a booty.
Conversely, it is unclear whether they stamped these garments or the Asante modified it by themselves. Conceivably, King Kofi Adinkra dressing pattern was similar to that of the Hausa charm tunic. On acquiring this garment, the Asante community was able to develop a quicker process of reproducing such designs thus changing the appearance and meaning to fit their preferences (Polakoff, 1980, p.10). From the late 17th century, the Asante had traded with the European. However, it was until the 18th century when the Asante sent several examples of their garments to Europe. In addition, the Asante had already substituted their local strip woven clothes from the cotton fabrics. Therefore, it is questionable that the Adinkra was derived from the ancient tradition of the African-American slaves.
The evolution of the of the Adinkra
To further understand the various aspects or the traditional clothing among the Asante people, it is important to establish the main differences between the traditional Adinkra and the modern ones. The advancement in the textile industry has greatly transformed not only the role of the Adinkra, but also the design. To begin with, while the ancient Adinkra was only worn by spiritual leaders and royal families, the modern Adinkra is worn by everyone. In the early times, the Adinkra was worn at sacred ceremonies and funerals (Quartey, 2006, p.136). On the other hand, in the modern day, Adinkra is worn on a special occasion.
Another important aspect of the Adinkra is that, in the early times, the Adinkra was commissioned by the wearer to be worn on specific occasions or at death. Today’s Adinkra can not only be won by everybody, but it is readily available in stores, shops, and supermarkets. Another important aspect of the Adinkra is that since there was no machine, it was hand-made (Quartey, 2006, p.136). Today’s Adinkra is made using sophisticated textile machines. Initial motifs of the Adinkra were individually stamped. Today’s Adinkra is made of two multiple motifs. Lastly, while the traditional motif was undyed with a color to suit the wearer’s role and occasion, today’s Adinkra is made of a variety of colored backgrounds as preferred by the wearer.
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In conclusion, it is fair to stress that the “lexicon” that characterized the Adinkra motifs has changed over time. As far as its recent transformations are concerned, the traditional motifs have been abandoned. As a result, new names as well as meanings have been assigned to the Adinkra. These meanings and names have been adopted with respect to the different contexts. With respect to the important issues discussed in this paper, whereas the ancient Adinkra is still worn and produced, this textile was popularized after the Americans stopped importing slaves in Africa.
In addition, initially the Adinkra was used by the elites from the Asante Kingdom, originally bought as slaves. Over time, the meaning, motifs, occasions, as well as the wearer of the Adinkra textile have continued to evolve over the past years. For this reason, this paper has established that there is no link between the African-American quilts and the Adinkra.
Fianu, D. (2007). Ghana’s Kente and Adinkra: history and socio-cultural significance in a contemporary global economy. Accra: Black Mask Limited.
Gomez, A. (2009). Adinkra Banners. SchoolArts: The Art Education Magazine for Teachers, 108(6), 40-41.
Polakoff, C. (1980). The Hand-Printed Adinkra Cloth of Ghana. Design for Arts in Education, 82(1), 4-11.
Quartey, P. (2006). The textile and clothing industry in Ghana. The future of the textile and clothing industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, Germany, 135-146.