|Earlier this year
I traveled to Ghana and Togo—two countries in West Africa.
While visiting these countries I met many weavers, dyers and
spinners. One of the outstanding weavers I met was a
gentleman who lives in the Ashante town of Bonwire. His name
is Samuel Cophie. I spent the day with Mr. Cophie and had
time to not only observe his students weave their narrow
strips of vividly colored cloth—but to meet with his wives
and children. I asked Mr. Cophie many questions about
weaving techniques, the strip-weaving looms, and his
students—even about how he became a weaver. I then asked
how strip weaving originated in West Africa.
"Tradition" was his initial answer—but within
time he also told me about Anansi, the spider—a popular
folk hero in Ashante folklore.
Hundreds of years ago
rainforests covered the land that today is known as Ghana.
It is in this rainforest that the Ashante people live—and
it is also in this rainforest that Anansi, the spider lives.
Now, Anansi a wise and lovable trickster is shrewd and
cunning. He is a troublemaker, but he is also imaginative
One day during the reign of
Oti Akenten (about 1600 AD) two brothers--Nana Kragu and
Nana Ameyaw--went hunting in the rain forest. After
searching all day for food with no success they finally
spotted a herd of impala. They were delighted with their
find, but on closer inspection the brothers spied something
else--something that hovered near this herd. What was this
thing that glistened with the evening mist and reflected the
colors of the rainbow? And who was this creature that was
sitting in the very center of this delicate object? "I
am a spider—I am Anansi, the spider and this
"object" is a web," was the reply. "And
in return for several favors I will teach you how to weave
lovely webs like this."
The brothers accomplished the
tasks Anansi gave them and in return they learned the art
not only of weaving but the arts of spinning and dyeing.
Upon returning to the village, the brothers showed everyone
the beautiful fabric they had woven. They told everyone
about the looms they had built and the threads they had spun
and dyed. And, of course, they told everyone about Anansi’s
gift---the Gift of the Magic Thread.
The loom Anansi constructed
for the brothers was the simplest of looms—a loom built
out of tree limbs and branches. This simple, portable loom
is still in use today and can be seen all over West Africa.
It is known as a strip-weaving loom.
Four sturdy tree limbs buried
in the ground establish the frame for this loom. Its
harnesses and beaters are supported by an overhead limb or
by a beam in a roof. The front warp beam is also a strong
tree limb that is tied to support branches with twine—it
is this limb that carries the woven fabric.
The reed, shuttles, heddle
pulleys are either constructed by the weaver or purchased in