Kente cloth worn by Democrats originated with African leaders who sold their people as slaves

by Laura Mize · Jun 17th, 2020 10:47 am

Kente cloths donned recently by Congressional Democrats in what seemed to be a show of solidarity with African-Americans originated with an African slave-trading empire, fact checkers have noted.

Following the Democrats wearing the colorful cloths across their shoulders and kneeling in the U.S. Capitol building on June 8, Facebook user Dave Brandon posted this statement on the social media platform:

"Yesterday the Democrats wore kente scarfs and knelt down for their photo op. So check this out, Kente cloth was worn by the Ashanti. It's made of silk so the affluent wore it. The Ashanti were also known as slave owners and traders. Huh? … This makes me wonder why they chose to wear this particular tribe's garb."

USA Today fact checked the claim, and determined it to be accurate. The media outlet published an article Tuesday explaining its findings about Kente cloth. The article reads, in part:

"Kente cloth comes from the Asante, or Ashanti, peoples of Ghana and Ewe peoples of Ghana and Togo.

A popular legend claims creators of kente cloth presented the cloth to Asantehene Osei Tutu, the Asante kingdom's first leader. Tutu named the cloth "kente," meaning basket, and adopted the fabric as a royal cloth for special occasions.

Tutu, who lived from 1660 to 1712 or 1717, unified several small Asante kingdoms to create the Asante empire. He is credited with expanding the Asante throughout most of Ghana and introducing his subjects to the gold and slave trades along the West African coast.

The Asante supplied British and Dutch traders with slaves in exchange for firearms, which they used to expand their empire. Slaves were often acquired as tributes from smaller states or captured during war. Some slaves were brought across the Atlantic whiles [sic] others stayed in Africa to work in gold fields."

The article also notes that, by the end of the 1700s, an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people were taken from the region as slaves each year. It also acknowledges that Kente cloths have tradition and meaning for African people that extend beyond slave trading.

Obianuju Ekeocha, a woman who lives in Africa and is known as a pro-life advocate, uploaded a video to Twitter expressing her displeasure with Democrats' Kente cloth display.

"Why are you using the Kente material to signal your virtue? Stop it," she said. "We are not children. Africans are not children. And leave our tradition and our culture to us and if you don't know much about it, ask somebody."


There are 30 comments on this article.

You must become a subscriber or login to view or post comments on this article.