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The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Adinkra and Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana

Boatema Boateng

Publication Year: 2011

In Ghana, adinkra and kente textiles derive their significance from their association with both Asante and Ghanaian cultural nationalism. Adinkra, made by stenciling patterns with black dye, and kente, a type of strip weaving, each convey, through color, style, and adornment, the bearer’s identity, social status, and even emotional state. Yet both textiles have been widely mass-produced outside Ghana, particularly in East Asia, without any compensation to the originators of the designs.

In The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng focuses on the appropriation and protection of adinkra and kente cloth in order to examine the broader implications of the use of intellectual property law to preserve folklore and other traditional forms of knowledge. Boateng investigates the compatibility of indigenous practices of authorship and ownership with those established under intellectual property law, considering the ways in which both are responses to the changing social and historical conditions of decolonization and globalization. Comparing textiles to the more secure copyright protection that Ghanaian musicians enjoy under Ghanaian copyright law, she demonstrates that different forms of social, cultural, and legal capital are treated differently under intellectual property law.

Boateng then moves beyond Africa, expanding her analysis to the influence of cultural nationalism among the diaspora, particularly in the United States, on the appropriation of Ghanaian and other African cultures for global markets. Boateng’s rich ethnography brings to the surface difficult challenges to the international regulation of both contemporary and traditional concepts of intellectual property, and questions whether it can even be done.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Indexes of Culture and Power

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pp. 1-34

Adinkra and Kente fabrics are made by ethnic groups in Ghana, and until 1996, I saw them as expressions of cultural identity and kente, in particular, as a highly desirable—and elusive—status symbol. Like many Ghanaians, I valued adinkra cloth not only for its association with mourning but also as the source of a pool of symbolic designs ...

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1. The Tongue Does Not Rot: Authorship, Ancestors, and Cloth

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pp. 35-66

Kofi, an Adinkra maker, raised the subject of property rights in cultural production before I could even explain my mission in wanting to talk to him. Several researchers had come to the community asking him and others about their craft, he declared angrily,...

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2. The Women Don’t Know Anything!: Gender, Cloth Production, and Appropriation

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pp. 67-90

It was my first visit to Asokwa, and I was explaining my research goals to Kofi. After the initial hostile reaction that I described in chapter 1, he agreed to record his life history and help me contact other adinkra producers. I told him that I would also like to talk to women in the community. ...

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3. Your Face Doesn’t Go Anywhere: Cultural Production and Legal Subjectivity

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pp. 91-116

Akua Afriyie was one of the first respondents I encountered, and when asked about copyright, her response established a theme that was to recur with a number of others. She said, “Isn’t it what MUSIGA does?” (MUSIGA is the Musicians Union of Ghana). Next was Manu, an adinkra maker, who expressed doubts about the possibility of protecting his community’s designs ...

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4. We Run a Single Country: The Politics of Appropriation

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pp. 117-144

Kwasi is from the Ewe ethnic group and grew up in the town of Agbozume, a center of Ewe kente or adanudo, where he learned to weave. When he moved to the national capital, Accra, and realized that Asante kente was more popular than the Ewe version, he found a group of Asante weavers who readily taught him how to weave Asante kente.1 ...

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5. This Work Cannot Be Rushed: Global Flows, Global Regulation

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pp. 145-164

Whether South African statesman Nelson Mandela was indeed responsible for a spike in U.S. demand for kente is uncertain. But Asante’s story helps to reveal the challenges that adinkra and kente producers face in competing in the global economy. If identity-based claims over adinkra and kente are bound up with Asante, ...

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Conclusion: Why Should the Copyright Thing Work Here?

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pp. 165-182

Ghana’s use of intellectual property law to protect elements of local cultural production, like adinkra and kente designs, is not simply an interesting case study of an attempt to fit non-Western cultural forms into Western legal regimes. More importantly, it has to do with the place of nations like Ghana in the current global order ...

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pp. 183-184

I am grateful, first, to the cloth producers who shared their life histories with me and to all the other artists, activists, scholars, policy advisers, and government officials who granted me the interviews that made this book possible. I thank Mrs. Sabina Ofori-Boateng for facilitating my research. ...


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-210

Index, About the Author Color Plates follow page 217

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pp. 211-217

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676798
E-ISBN-10: 0816676798
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816670031

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies