Bark Cloth

Bark cloth was one of the first cloths known to be made on the African continent, though its exact origins are lost to history. Bark cloth was made by peeling the inner bark off trees and beating it until it was soft. The first peoples known to use bark cloth were the Kuba, living in the present-day nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The peoples living in the forested regions of Africa, including the Congo Basin and West Africa, used bark cloth extensively. Bark cloth was fashioned into skirts and robes long enough to drape around the entire body. The inner bark of the ficus tree was one of the most often used for bark cloth. Patterned bark cloth garments were made from the different colored bark of various trees, which were combined to create geometric designs, and sometimes the bark cloth was painted.

Many other Africans used bark cloth, but some nomadic herders, who moved place to place as seasons changed or food grew scarce, replaced it with animal skins and others began weaving fabrics. Woven fabric has now replaced garments made of bark cloth or animal skins, but the Buganda people of Uganda did create bark cloth garments into the 1950s.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Blauer, Ettagale. African Elegance. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

A traditional Zambian costume, made from bark cloth. Reproduce by permission of © David Reed/ CORBIS.

A traditional Zambian costume, made from bark cloth. Reproduce by permission of © David Reed/ CORBIS.

Barkcloth Garments

A man soaking clothing in indigo dye, which is the most common dye used to produce batik cloth.

Reproduced by permission of © Lawrence Manning/CORBLS.

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    HOW WAS AFRICAN BARK CLOTH PROCESSED?
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