Asante Adinkra Cloth

Adinkra is the only African cloth printing tradition of pre-Colonial origin. It is one of the prestigious royal crafts produced in villages around the Asante capital Kumase, in this case being almost entirely confined to the village of Ntonso and the Kumase district of Asokwa. According to Asante legend it was introduced in 1818 following the capture of a rival monarch by the name of Adinkra, who wore the cloth to express his sorrow on being taken to Kumase. Adinkra involves the printing of designs in a black dye made from the bark of certain trees, using stamps carved from sections of calabash. The earliest examples in museum collections are printed on locally woven cloth, and this is still done today, but for most of the twentieth century the use of imported cloth as a background has been more common. The plain cloth is pegged out on a flat piece of ground ready to be decorated. The artist begins by marking out the grid of lines using a device like a broad toothed comb. Once this is complete he fills in one square at a time, recharging the stamp in the dye each time before pressing it lightly onto the cloth. Sometimes two or more designs are alternated in a single square, more usually each square has a distinct motif. On older cloths the sections are usually joined by multicoloured cotton stitching.

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