Africana Textile Art Tradition

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In the highlands and plains of South Africa, the Ndebele, the Nguni, and the Zulu, just to name three ethnic groups, transform cloth, beads, leather and blankets into works of art, shawls of beauty, like murals on walls of beauty of their homes, textile art to cover their bodies. The Ashanti and Ewe weave exquisite Kente cloths worn at august ceremonies and Kente is the official traditional attire for most Ghanaians. Elegant and multi-colored Gelede and Epa masquerades swirl through streets in Yorubaland, and in Dahomey, where multicolored appliqués hang to announce status, coats of arms. In Elmina, under the shadow of a now-very-empty slave castle, the Asafo groups, companies of Fante warrior-dancers, who now only perform and enact war flag dances, attest to a textile art tradition that is an integral part of African life.

It was through horrendous voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in bowels of monstrous slave ships filled with stolen cargo of Africans that lasted over three centuries into the 19th century, starting out from dungeons of slave castles doting the coast of Africa, the oldest in Africa in Elmina, Ghana, that the African Diaspora was engendered and with Africa South of the Sahara emerged as Africana. From those dungeons, millions were brought in chains to the Americas to work on plantations and enslaved. The Middle Passage did not destroy vital cultural memory so that African textile art tradition made its way in the minds of stolen ancestors of Africana to the Americas. Many African Americans reclaim their African heritage and use Kente as one of the symbols of the reclamation. Carnivals in Brazil, the Caribbean, and in the United States, especially in New Orleans, epitomize not only Africana textile art in full display but also evidence re-interpretation of ancient African performance tradition in the Americas, the ancient and the modern forged in Africana performance.