The four weaving enclaves of Ashanti
What happened to Asotwe and Mampong Beposo?
Today you hear of Adanwomase and Bonwire as the Kente weaving towns of Asante, take a breath, it wasn’t like that in the past. The four original weaving enclaves were Adanwomase Asotwe, Bonwire and Mampong Beposo.
The initial orders by the King of Ashanti to go to BONTUKU in the late 17th century to learn more about hand woven Kente involved these four towns. Bontuku was in the ‘NORTH’ and the north was bordered around present day Ivory Coast, southern parts of Niger in the present day Mali. Trans-Saharan trade and the emergence of renowned empires like Songhai, Mali and Ghana had exposed fashions and exotic designs to the upper social class of sub Sahara Africa. By a royal edict, these four towns Adanwomase, Asotwe, Bonwire and Mampong Beboso who were already weavers sent a pioneering group of weavers to BONTUKU to learn the new technique in the trade. They went and all returned safely to their positions as weavers at the Manhyia Palace.
While there is no one reason to explain the demise of Asotwe and Mampong Beposo on the modern Kente radar, four main theories have emerged to explain the demise of these once royal weavers.
These include but not only the following (a) Competence (b) Banishment (c) Palace vs. local area weaving and (d) The Salaga trip for Cotton Yarns. Any one of these, or a combination of them may explain why their names are not mentioned in modern Kente circles in Ashanti but only Adanwomase and Bonwire.
Some of the weavers were not competent enough to continue as royal weavers.
Competence issues arose frequently with weaving, if a weaver’s competence is questioned amongst the celebrated royal weavers, they may lose their position at the court or get demoted. So it was with ordinary weavers and their masters in the towns where the business was being nurtured. The beginners and apprentices had to be certified by their masters from a broad spectrum that may include commitment, dedication to work, the correct skills for the job and honesty. In most cases these apprentices don’t show enough interest in the training process and so do not acquire the masterful skills that will make a good weaver an expert. Thus if a weaver or weavers under perform in their respective enclaves the business will not thrive and will spell their demise in their local towns
It was not uncommon for weavers who violated their oath of office i.e. to weave only for the King to violate it. If such a thing occurs, especially for the royal weavers, they are banished and may not pursue weaving again as a profession. Violating an oath and subsequent banishment spells doom for the future of the local industry.
PALACE VS. HOMETOWN WEAVING.
Some royal weavers when they returned to their communities were not interested in the development of the industry at the local level even though they were very good at the palace
Neglecting the local industry may spell the doom of the town as a kente weaving centre, or for any historical significance it may have had in the past as a royal weaving enclave.
THE SALAGA COTTON YARN EXPEDITION.
We have heard of the BONTUKU expedition to the ‘north’ in the C17th.. With respect to Adanwomase weavers, there was a second expedition to the north, this time the ‘north’ is present day SALAGA in Northern Ghana. The main reason for going was to explore how they can secure constant supply of cotton yarns, a critical raw material for weaving. Most kente cloth at that time were made from white locally spun cotton. The white yarn was dyed locally to get black or indigo color which was combined in several ways with white cotton to produce’ Black and White’ kente designs.
In Asante kente history Adanwomase is noted prominently for their pursuit of this critical commodity. Sad to say that none of the original group of five weavers who went to Bontuku was alive at the time of the Salaga expedition but equally dedicated family members went to learn the manufacture of cotton yarns They spent about seven years in this expedition at Salaga learning how to grow, harvest and process the raw cotton wool into cotton yarn.
When they returned the royal industry as well as the local weaving progressed immensely at Adanwomase.
The kente stool name, MFUFUTOMAHENE was appropriately derived from the expertise Adanwomase had on cotton cloth through her acquisition of cotton yarns.
Weather any or all of the other weaving houses especially Asotwe and Mampong Beposo had constant supply of cotton yarns at that time to push the industry forward is not known. But access or lack of it to this vital raw material in any weaving town could in a significant way explain whether such a town or weaver can sustain the young industry at that time.
If Asotwe and Mampong Beposo lost out with the acquisition of cotton yarns, the C20th emergence of colored yarns may be too late for them to embrace in their localities.
While there may be other reasons for the demise of these two towns from the modern history of Asante kente I don’t share the view that it is an attempt by kente historians to discredit these towns in Ashanti of their contribution to Kente.
Similar reason can be attributed to why the celebrated musician and academic Dr. Ephraim Amo thought Asante Kente began and ended with Bonwire. The famous “Asante Bonwire Kente yi de menteebi da o”may fall short of the total contribution Asnteman made to the sustenance of Kente and for that matter the unconscious recognition Adanwomase was denied since we have been in the forefront and still are in Asante Kente evolution from day one.