Bonwire - The Kente Capital

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
Trip End Mar 27, 2005

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Flag of Ghana  ,
Monday, March 21, 2005

This morning we've hired the bus from the Silicon Hotel along with a driver and Prince as our guide to visit the nearby town of Bonwire (sounds like bon-wee). We have a beautiful air-conditioned bus to travel in - no tro-tros today! We are the only ones on this bus and we have it for 12 hours for the sum of $75 US. Not bad! They will take us anywhere we want to go.

It is about a 45-minute drive from Kumasi to Bonwire. Things were going great until we turned down a road and had to stop the bus because some scary looking locals were blocking the road. They are all waving machetes and rifles. Oh boy, this is not good. Some of them had weird metal helmets on their heads that came down over their faces. They surround the stopped bus. Hmm, I'm a little nervous now. They are yelling at us through the closed windows. I look at Prince and see he's not amused. Kailey wants to take their picture but I don't want her to antagonize them. It wasn't long - although it felt long at the time - before the driver just decides to get out of there, probably before they damage his new bus. Turns out later we had just happened upon a work protest/demonstration of some kind and they weren't after us at all.

The village of Bonwire is the best known of the many Kente weaving villages around the Ashanti region. Legend has it that the most skillful weavers were forbidden to sell their cloth to anyone other than the king without permission. Many of the weavers work in enclosed courtyards so if you don't know where to look, it is better to have a guide. The door of the bus barely opened and kids and young men selling things and wanting to be our guides surround us. They were "in your face" kind of pests. We were trying to see the weaving and listen to what they were telling us, all the while we had bracelets and bookmarkers jammed in our faces. One strange thing that happened as we got off the bus was to hear Kailey's name being called as a boy came up the street. He came up to us and says Hi to Kailey and "You remember me!" Well, no, we didn't remember him and just how did he know Kailey's name? Turns out he was the boy that made Kailey's bookmarker with her name on it a couple of days before outside of the King's palace in Kumasi. "How did you get here so fast?" Kailey asked him, hands on her hips.

We were told how the Kente cloth is woven and how long it takes to learn the craft. A weaver works for 10 years to perfect the single weave before learning the double weave and practicing it for another 10 years. Finally after 20 years he moves on to triple weave, the most difficult of all. Only men are allowed to weave Kente cloth. There is a superstition with the Ghanaians that if a woman was allowed to weave the cloth, and the loom were to touch her stomach, she would never be able to bear children.

Off to do some serious looking at the finished products, with all the pesky kids after us, and now the shop owners have all appeared chanting "Come to my shop - I give you good price". We marvel at the beautiful colours and learn that each design has a name and each colour has a meaning. Oh, how to decide? We visit a second shop and they bring out piece after piece of beautiful cloth but they are only complicating the choices! The most gorgeous piece has been woven for a king. It is black and gold and white. They wrap Andrew up in the cloth, as a king would wear it - which goes to his head as he tries to order his subjects to bow before him! The piece is beautiful and has taken 24 years to weave. We are considering buying it but decide it actually looks more oriental to us than African so we keep looking. Kailey also gets a turn to wear a piece of Kente as a woman would wear it (like a skirt). We finally decide on a piece and find out the name of the one we've chosen is called Family Unity - how fitting! Next we find a piece of Adinkra cloth, which is single weave Kente with ancient calabash stampings on the cloth. Like Kente, Adinkra is worn by men like a toga but is used for funerals and other such occasions. We buy one that is black and red with yellow stamps made from dye made by boiling the bark of the badie tree. There are more than 60 different Adinkra symbols and each one signifies a tradition or proverb. We now have our Adinkra cloth hanging over the couch in the living room. Together the two pieces cost 500,000. The receipt reads "Two pieces Kente - woman sized".

Outside the shop, the kids are still waiting, trying to sell their goods and we're not interested. They are trying to get us to give them our hats and sunglasses - one asks for a Gameboy. They follow us back to the bus and we can't get on fast enough and get the door closed. This was a bit too much pressure for us. Little did we know at the time it was nothing compared to the craft market in Accra!
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