The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kumasi with Anna - Kente Cloth

Within an hour of Kumasi you can see most of the major indigenous art crafts that come from the Ashanti Region of Ghana: Kente Cloth, Wooden Stools, and Adinkra Cloth.

Of the five original "stooled" villages, the ones that were officially designated by the paramount chief as Kente Villages, only two still produce at, or produce it for Tourists to see it. In Eastern Ghana, the Ewe also produce Kente and last year Suzanne and I toured one of those villages [read about it here]. But here an hour outside of Kumasi, the granddaddy of Kente, the most famous of the Asanti Kente villages is Bonwire (pronounced bon-re), it is also the one with the highest hustle factor.

We drove up and immediately were greeted, or rather our white skin and pocketbooks were greeted. Its still early and I am just not up for that experience yet, and didn't come this far to get an experience I can get in Accra anytime I want. (Yes, I know should be getting used to it now). In the new Bradt Guide, I had read about another one of the stooled Kente villages that promised a hassle-free tour of the village and Kente making. So, instead of getting out of the car, we asked for directions, directions our "greeters" were reluctant to give. Eric pressed them, and finally they relented. "They should have signboard," Eric grumbled going out of town.

At Adanwomase, we drove up and were completely ignored. There was an Office of Tourism, but it was empty. No one was rushing to greet us, and I looked around the simple office. There was an agreement of behavior sitting on the desk that had two columns: Expectations for Visitors, Expectations for Townspeople. Under the townspeople column it said something about leaving the visitors along, smiling at them, and treating them with respect. So that's what's going on, hey I like this.

On the Visitors side, it talked about respecting townspeople, and asking before taking their picture. They even had a brochure, [click here] that explained the offerings. Anna decided on the Kente Tour, and I arranged for a lunch to be served after. While waiting I met John, a Peace Corp volunteer who lives in the village and has set up this tour and brokered the agreement for the townspeople not to "worry the tourists." Turns out that 40% of what the tour makes goes to the town Library, so people are willing to abide by these expectations.

Adanwomase was settled by the women of a village Hemang, who left with their children. They found a small river and decided to build their new community under an Adanwoma tree, calling their new village, "Adanwomase," meaning, "Under the Adanwoma tree."

Unlike the village of Bonewire (where they do Worry the tourists), the chiefs of Adanwomase swear their allegiance to the Asantehene (the paramount chief of the Ashenti) while those of Bonwire swear to the paramount chief of Juaben.

It used to be that only the Asantehene could wear kente, hence the kente cloth used to be called Ohene Nko mfira, literally meaning that the woven cloth was for the sole use of the King. The story is told of the early weavers being sequestered at the Kings Palace, since the Asantehene was the sole user of kente cloth, the weavers were under oath of secrecy about their designs. Then it was a serious offence if anyone outside the palace saw process but later as the process leaked, the weavers were allowed to return to their homes.

Our guide was named Osei, and he took us from start to finish, from where they sell the string, to where they sell the finished cloth, and then we sat and had Jollof Rice in the back part of one of the shops where we bought Kente cloth strips.

[Osei, holding a loop of thread]

[Making a bobbin of thread at the string shop]

[Putting 25 bobbins of thread]

[Ananse, the spider design]

[Anna, making weaving cloth]

[Steve pretending he is Bill Clinton, pretending he is Ghanaian]

(Even today if you wear a shirt under Kente, you’re called Bill Clinton, since he did so when he visited here)

[Black & White Kente, a speciality of the town.]

As we leave Adanwomase, I think about the previous Kente village that Suzanne and I toured in the Volta Region. That village was Ewe, so the people, traditions, and cloth was different, but also the age of the weavers. There we saw 100s of small boys, ages 9-12 who were doing the weaving. They were very fast. Our guide said they were Ewe boys from Togo, who had been sent to learn the art of Kente weaving. We also saw women weaving, but set apart from the boys. And there the weavers sat in community, long rows of weavers, who worked and sang together. But in Adanwomase we only saw men weaving, and doing so in solitude. The government had built a marketplace for the town, but like so many other towns, it goes unused.
Some say the townspeople don’t use the marketplace because its located in an out of the way place, away from the main road and town, others say they don’t like because the wrong political party built it. The NPP built it and this is a NDC town. So the weavers use it, though it is ill suited for their use.

[this is tripple weave, a very difficult design to make]

After Adanwomase, and buying several strips of cloth, we went to visit our friends Cam & Anne Gongwer [click here] who have served with The Mission Society in Ankaase since 1999. I met Dr. Cam at Lake Bosumtwe over a year ago [part1, part2], and like then like now, I found him to be one of the kindest, most gentle hearted man I have ever known. He is the director of Methodist Faith Healing Hospital, while Anne has let God use her to work on a literacy project, and building a new Reading Town Library.

[Cam & Anne at the Hospital]

Anna was excited to see their 11 year old daughter Caylor (who just kick me, I didn’t get any pictures of).

While Anna had girl time with Caylor, Cam gave me a tour of the hospital, and what an amazing ministry he has working with God and serving the people there. Then Anne showed the future Reading Town Library, currently an almost finished brick building, awaiting books, and computers. Again, amazing.

[Anne in front of the Library][Reading Room]

I stood looking around this cavernous hall, “What is this, about 5000 square feet?” I ask. Anne tells me it’s a bit larger, like 5250, and I think, yep, still got it. To me it looks like a great place to start a new church, but for her it is a reading room, community hall, education center where people from all over town will come to further their education. Its hard not to catch her vision and enthusiasm for the project. I’m just impressed that it is a brick building, and out front grass, and how unusual it is for Ghana.

[Empty Computer Room]

The empty computer room pulls at my heart. Its ready, there are outlets on the wall every few feet, and tables, and all it lacks is 10 to 20 networked computers. As a pastor, I often wondered if the money we threw at missions projects could ever make a difference, but here, in this town, in this Reading Town Library, I see that some well placed dedicated money could really make a difference. I hope you will want to contribute something to this project [click here].

Then we went back to their house and made the best pizza I have ever had. There was real mozzarella, I sliced the pepperoni, and Anne had made her secret sauce. “Now how is it,” I asked, “that I have to come all this way into the bush to find pizza this great?” Its true, and in the morning we had blueberry pancakes, homemade maple syrup, and strong Starbucks coffee. I had forgotten that weeks ago Anne & Cam had just returned from a month in the states, where they had returned with all these provisions that they were eating through before they went bad. They are better people than I, I’m not sure I could have shared.

The Gongwers have a nice video about their Mission: [click here to see]

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