Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Spider Weaver

The Spider Weaver musgrove cairns saffron treeThe Spider Weaver
A Legend of the Kente Cloth

by Margaret Musgrove
illustrated by Julia Cairns

Ages 4-8

The Blue Sky Press
(an Imprint of Scholastic Inc.)

Anyone who has laid eyes on the striking pattern of fabric known worldwide as the Kente (ken-tee) cloth, interwoven with brightly colored strips, cannot easily forget it. Kente cloth is native to the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast.

How did this wonderful kente cloth come about? Legend has it that long long time ago, a spider created an intricate and elegant web that inspired the weavers to emulate the beauty and create a unique fabric fit for royalty.

Nana Koragu and Nana Ameyaw were skilled weavers who mostly wove nwen-ntoma (nnwen-un-toe-ma) - a simple cloth - that everyone from kings to the common people wore. Late one night, while returning home with their catch, they happened upon something that seemed like a small miracle: a spider web with such wondrous design that has never been seen.

The story goes on to tell us how Ameyaw and Koragu watch the Master Web Weaver - a lovely large yellow-and-black spider - in awe, as the spider shows them a special dance that is both regal and graceful, teaching them, inspiring them to create their own weave.

Ameyaw and Koragu, excited about this gift from the spider, redesign their looms, dye the threads in bright colors and develop many new patterns, naming the new woven cloth kente-nwen-ntoma, now known simply as kente cloth.

The illustrations are bursting with color much like the kente cloth, showing scenes from the village life - a nursing goat, a playing child, women pounding on the mortar/pestle, a calabash filled with water... as well as showcasing the lush vegetation of the nearby forest with the monkeys watching from the trees and elephants foraging peacefully...

While the book doesn't elaborate upon actual process of kente cloth weaving per se, there is an interesting description of the origins, as well as the significance of the specific patterns used in contemporary kente cloths. The afterword offers a simple pronunciation guide for some of the words the story.

[image source:]


artnavy said...

Such a lovely sounding book. Makes me wonder if there are such stories behind the Indian Kanchipuram sari or the Kashmiri shawl or carpets?

sandhya said...

Wonderful how these legends become part of everyday life.

Echoing Art. There is a similar story behind the discovery and popularisation of silk in China.

In a book I have reviewed-to follow later in this festival- there is a Mexican legend about a goddess called Ix Chel who brings the craft of weaveing to Earth after watching a spider weave a web. Goes to show how mankind is linked in its pre-history, doesn't it?

Sunita said...

Oh my review is also a take on Kente - hadn't seen or heard of this clothe before! Now I know so much about it. Now if I could lay my hands on this one..

Zoe @ Playing by the book said...

Oh I have to get hold of this one! I have a real thing for african fabric, infact I'm trying to make a quilt out of all sorts of african fabric at the moment, mostly wax prints though because kente fabric is more expensive! It sounds like this book might pair well with Sophie's Masterpiece: A Spider's Tale, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Jane Dyer

sathish said...

I searched online for photos on Kente cloth. They look very nice.

Thanks sheela for an interesting pick.

utbtkids said...

Sheela, another gem. What a nice story about spider weaving the intricate designs.

I can see our library systems getting over loaded with requests :)

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

What a coincidence !!! I had been meaning to send you guys a mail about this book ever since we read it here .... my little girl and me were blown away by this book !!

Choxbox said...

Sounds like a treat Sheels. Hope to lay my hands on it some day.

@Art: There is one about the zardosi work - Hina in the Old City, by Tulika. Then the one about chinkankari work which Ranjani just reviewed. But Kanjeevram sarees? Wow!

@Zoe: There is a shop exclusively for African fabrics opposite Baker Street Tube station - they have a sale every so often, maybe worth exploring.

Zoe @ Playing by the book said...

Thanks for the tip Choxbox!

Meera Sriram said...

Interesting find Sheela. There is something striking about illustrations of books and stories set in Africa - you know warm yet bold colors against stark black - this book seems to have it going (in case the inside is as lovely as the cover:).

Praba Ram said...

Wonderful to learn something new each day of CROCUS! Enough to keep the child in me alive. :)

Words in other languages and pronunciation guides in picture books always offer some neat material for linguistically stimulating little ones!

Thanks for an enchanting pick, Sheela! Will add it to my wishlist.

Tharini said...

Echo Art. I do wonder if we have any interesting stories behind our indigenous cloth.

I am really curious to see the bright splash of colors you so lovingly describe from inside the book!

Vibha said...

Yes, Kente cloth look really beautiful.

We are reading 'Charlotte's Web' and the weaving by the spider Charlotte is amazing us in the story.

ranjani.sathish said...

Very interesting Sheela ! It is always nice to read about where the inspirations come from (real or imagined creatively !)

Anusha said...

awesome! The kente cloth, pattern reminds me of small seating mats we used while growing up. How interesting that there is a whole legend woven into it.
Kente also holds special significance during Kwanzaa, as I learned last holiday season.

Sheela said...

Thanks, all!

Aside: When we read Princess Grace (Mary Hoffman) after reading The Spider Weaver, Ana was thrilled to note that Grace chose West African Kente robe rather than stereotypical pink fluffy dress for her school parade of princesses :)

Praba Ram said...

Sheela, that's a precious piece of info about Kente robe in Princess Grace!

KM - Kwanzaa as well, wow!

Tharini said...

Sheela...we read this last night. And wow!!! I couldn't stop looking at that glorious spider web. And we literally dip, twist, turn and slided our way to bed yesterday.

Winkie is home today from school and I thin we'll end up trying to draw our own kente patterns. What a precious story!

Sheela said...

Awesome, T, glad to hear.

(Aside: We liked this paper-weaving craft - especially after Abuela's Weave and when we revisited it after Spider Weaver :))

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