Symbols in Kete weaving
former Kete Weaver
The Klikor weaver, as
and artist, is influenced by the beliefs, customs, teachings
and practices of his/her Ewe society. He/She transfers to fabric
a picture of the society in which he/she lives. Although impressionism,
imagination and choice of yarn are creative factors in determining
warp designs and the texture of the cloth, everyday occurrences,
the past, myths, religion, environment, etc, form the bulk of
the weaver's work. A few examples will illustrate this point.
Myths are associated with many symbols and images in kete.
For example, the weaver depicts a half-moon
and a star in
his/her cloth. The half-moon encompassing the star shows care
for ones children and fortitude in the face of difficulties.
An Ewe myth tells the story of Sun, Moon and their children,
the stars. There was a great famine and Sun suggested to Moon
that they kill their children for food. Moon agreed but, each
time, Moon only reprepared Sun's food of her children's meat
and sent it to Sun. This continued until Sun had no children.
So that when the sun shines, no stars are seen. Moon really loved
her children to the extent of going hungry to keep them. (The
source of light is not considered in this story. it is the story
of the eye).
Religion in art is very pervasive
and weaving is no exception. The Ewe also call God Mawu Sogbo
Lisa. Therefore the chameleon,
Lisa, is also a religious symbol designed in cloths. It also
represents patience and change. These qualities are shown by
its careful stride and simulation of many shades of colour. When
the Ewe say that "xexea mea agama
gbalee", they are emphasizing that no condition is permanent.
The world is a place of changes. Because of its nature of simulating
different shades of colour, the chameleon is said to represent
God, who is omnipotent, versatile and possesses everything.
The idea of God is also found in the clenched fist or in the
hand depicted in fabric. The clenched fist with one index finger
pointing up as a symbol in cloth is the equivalent of the Akan
Gye Nyame symbol. It means "only God knows what is
happening or happening to me." Another meaning is "God
is my only companion" in sadness or any situation, etc.
The colour of cloths ore also influenced by certain beliefs,
religious or otherwise. Among the Ewe, black and red are believed
to represent doom, death, or danger. White, green and blue indicate
good omen or fortune. Therefore colour patterns or designs in
cloth determine the occasions and purposes of use. Black kete
cloths or dominantly red cloths are used for funerals or other
occasions of misfortune, while white, green or blue cloths are
used and occasions of happiness or success.
The colour or combination of colours of a particular cloth may
also invoke ideas or impression. Babadui,
"devoured by termites", is a kind of dotted or spotted
cloth woven to show the state or condition of cloth devoured
by termites. Designed from the impression of that state, it also
indicates the state of death, of being devoured by termites in
the grave. It comes from the Ewe saying that however handsome
or beautiful one is, one is going to be eaten up by termites.
Even the Ewe apology, baba (sorry), comes from baba
are na wo... "Whatever the pain inflicted on you, the
termites will assuage you". Babadui was originally
a funeral cloth.
In weaving the weaver also captures traditional political institutions
with their symbolic staffs,
swords, stools and totems.
On stool outdooring, purification and installation occasions,
for example, these items are not only physically displayed, they
are also displayed in kete cloths. Many of these cloths ore specially
designed to match the occasions. The stool and sword predominate,
and in cloths they indicate the position of the wearer in society
or indicate the institution, The stool and sword in particular
symbolize stability and authority, political symbols.
There are also the occasions of festivals, festivals on which
cloths ore displayed in the attendant pageants. the aims of the
festivals also affect the designs and symbols in the cloths used.
Even ceremonies and items of worship in religious festivals give
names to particular cloths. Haliwoe (flour made of fermented
corn purposely used for brewing beer) is used on occasions of
religion. The flour and beer form important Ingredients In rituals
of various kinds to the divinities. the cloth haliwoe
usually commemorates such rituals. Usually the nature of the
festivals determine the colour of cloths to be used.
Many cloths of particular patterns, designs or images give instructions
and sanctions by recalling proverbs and axioms. These Instructions
remind society of manners and certain actions that may be injurious
or unwise. A cloth called Biafeamatase, "inquire
about the house," shows the ímportance of investigation
or knowledge of something. It also shows the care to be taken
In finding a wife or husband. Before one takes a wife or husband,
one has to be sufficiency convinced or satisfied with the character
and history of the household from which the wife or husband comes
from. And this cloth recalls the Ewe character of making sure
wives and husbands are not taken from households with criminal
and dlsability records,
The symbolic nature of cloth designs, symbols and images have
been explained, but it can still be elaborated here. Safi
(key) is a common
image in cloths. This is also a common stool regalia, projecting
the role and importance of certain clans or families who hold
the key to certain things - art, bravery, counselling, music,
drumming, leadership, etc. Many of the symbolism are taken from
proverbs and other Ewe sayings. For example, the crab, as another
cloth design or image, captures the Ewe proverb that states that
"sidewalking or walking akwardly does not indicate that
one is lost": Agala s be ne ye axadzi zom ha la menye
dee yebu o. The same image represents an important prayer
message to the divinities: Dzo medzea agadza (type of
crab) te afe o. Yes, the crab's house does not catch fire...
The crab lives in water.
Cloths ore also designed to portray the work of and individual
or a group. The Doka (net),
for example, is a cloth designed for fishermen. Cloths with images
of cutlasses, hoes
and crops may
be made for farmers, who ore proud of their work. In the same
way, mechanics, drivers and blacksmiths may order cloths with
images of their working tools - spanners,
etc. Likewise a diviner of competence may order a cloth with
a divinatory chain (Kpele). For the same reasons, a herbalist
may also propose to have images of leaves
in his cloth,
Contemporary designs deal with everyday occurrences. Since the
weaver is originally creative and, therefore, imaginative, he/she
frequently formulates ideas. Everyday demands also make it that
he/she has to combine the trite, the mystic, the past and the
personal experiences. In making out his/her designs, images and
symbols. The Wogagba
cloth design, a recent velvet invention, takes Its name from
the complex and difficult weft designs. The artistic version
takes a long time to complete. A weaver onlooker once remarked
that the weaver had to consume e panful (Gagba) of corn-flour
(Wo). Hence the name. It is the same contemporary ideas
that give birth to the aeroplane,
ink bottle, table,
chair and book
designs In the cloth, although a particular weaver or wearer
may have other meanings for the images and designs presented
In the cloth. This also means that new yarns are adopted for
cotton or fiber cloths, for example. The world of the weaver
is expanding and venturing into bombs
History in particular is a determintant of cloth designs, patterns
and images. This Is expecially true of cloths used to commemorate
clan occasions and anniversaries. Mahoe is a kpevi
used to commemorate the ceremonies related to rich women ancestors,
who were so rich that they bought slaves. the cloth is empasizing
the theme of the celebratIons. Mamafehoe: "it is
my grandmother's money" is contracted into Mahoe.
But Maye (Meyer) recalls the humiliations colonial subjects
suffered in Togo. It was named after the French Governor-General
of Togo, Meyer. Meyer imposed special share cropping on the Togolese.
In this, the government acquired a percentage in the forced labour
of collecting palm-nuts, culminating In many Togolese fleeing
to other countries to escape the supression of the Governor-General.
In a tyical Ewe community, drumming and other social groups recommend
special symbols, images and designs for special occasions. The
naming of the cloth must therefore reflect the activities of
the groups. A group will therefore dictate to the weaver a logo
or other symbol which describes the activities or aims of the
group. Such a group may need more than one weaver to accomplish
a seasonal or occasional order,
In short, the composition of
the Ewe society, its norms, customs, beliefs, teachings and practices
affect the weaver's work. In Afevo
in particular, in which the emphasis is on the quality and beauty
of the design or cloth, in which the warp motif is significant
and the designs or symbols meaningful, the aforementioned conditions
of ad art what to look for in any given and finished fabric.
The choice is not only for the weaver who, may otherwise send
anything of creativity to the market, but also for the consumer
who must have good reasons to patronise a work of art.