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Symbols in Kete weaving in Klikor
Dale Massiasta
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, swordsstools 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, hammers, pincers, 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, bicycle, car, 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 and signwriting.

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.

More symbols and about them in Klikor Icon