Weaving Gold

The traditional Ghanian kente cloth that Meshack Asare wore to the 2015 Neustadt Festival ceremony.
The traditional Ghanian kente cloth that Meshack Asare wore to the 2015 Neustadt Festival ceremony.

When Asare accepted the NSK Prize last October, he wore a traditional Ghanaian kente cloth for the award ceremony, which he described for the audience in attendance that night.

Well, I don’t really know what I can say about this wonderful reception that I have received, the amazing tribute by my formidable young countryman, and the very large number of people that I see here to celebrate excellence in children’s literature. I really am overwhelmed. But I must tell you something. I am wearing this cloth, and I think many of you know where it comes from. It is a fabric from Ghana called kente cloth, and the last time I actually wore this same cloth was in July 2002, and that was at a gala in Cape Town, South Africa. The occasion was to meet a very old (at that time) Nelson Mandela. As he shook my hand, he congratulated me for my book Sosu’s Call, which was at the top of the list—with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart—of the one hundred most influential books of the century written by Africans and published around the world. That was the occasion.

The kente cloth is a genuine Sikafuturo (“Gold dust”) fabric, woven from pure silk yarn by a master craftsman in a town called Bonwire, which is the original home of the kente and still the center of kente weaving in Ashanti. The Sikafuturo is one of the oldest designs and, in the early days, was only worn by kings, since it actually represented gold dust, which was the monetary currency and source of power of the Ashanti nation. It was made for me in 1969, but I only wear it on the most “esteemed” occasions.

It’s not easy to wear it because it’s quite heavy, made of silk. But today I decided that I must wear it for this occasion, and I have done this to honor the generous Neustadt family that set up this award, this prize honoring literature for children. I don’t think I can say much more. I have also worn it in respect of World Literature Today magazine, for the work they have done, for their dedication and commitment to excellence and making sure that they have found the best. And for all the people who have worked so hard to make sure that, for this occasion, everything happens as it has. And to all of you, I have worn this cloth in honor of and also in respect for all of you who are here. So that is why I am wearing it, the second time in so many years, all to celebrate this occasion.

Meshack Asare. Photo by Merleyn Bell
Photo by Merleyn Bell

Photo by Shevaun Williams

Meshack Asare is a gifted Ghanaian author-illustrator who has won international acclaim for a rare combination of literary and artistic talent as revealed in his storybooks. He is the winner of the 2015 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.