Kuba Cloth

I n the present-day nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the Kuba people weave a decorative cloth called Kuba cloth. Although this tradition is believed to be ancient, the oldest surviving examples of the cloth are dated back to the seventeenth century. Men weave the fabric out of raffia fibers, from a palm plant, and women apply colorful tufts in bold geometric designs. An entire social group is involved in the production of the cloth, from gathering the fibers, weaving the cloth, dyeing the decorative strands, to applying the embroidery, appliqué, or patchwork. Natural dyes were traditionally used, but man-made dyes are now used.

The embroidery on Kuba cloth look like tufts of velvet. The designs are stitched to the cloth and snipped to make a dense pile. There are hundreds of designs for Kuba cloth that have been handed down through the generations. However, each design can be embellished by the individual weaver. Appliqués are pieces of raffia cloth embroidered over the top of the base cloth. Patchwork involves stitching together smaller pieces of raffia cloth to create a whole garment. Appliqué and patchwork designs may have been created as a decorative method for patching holes.

Kuba cloth is fashioned into ceremonial garments and is most often worn for funerals. Mourners often wear large skirts made of Kuba cloth, and people are buried wearing Kuba cloth garments. Ceremonial garments include skirts for both men and women and overskirts for women. Women's skirts are often twenty-five feet long and men's skirts are longer than thirty feet. Kuba cloth skirts are wound around the body and held in place with a belt. Commercially made Kuba cloth of inferior quality is also created for export.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

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

Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Svenson, Ann E. "Kuba Textiles: An Introduction." WAAC Newsletter (January 1968): 2-5.

: Mud Cloth

Among African fabrics, the mud cloth of Mali in West Africa is as well-known as the Kente cloth of Ghana. Mud cloth is made of cotton strips woven by men and stitched together to form a larger cloth. Women then decorate the cloth with mud from the seasonal rivers in Mali. Mud cloth patterns are rich with meaning for the Bamana people of Mali; they symbolize the use of the cloth or convey messages to the wearer.

Applying patterns to mud cloth is labor intensive and time consuming. First women soak the rough cotton cloth in leaves that have a natural softening agent called tannin. When they apply clay in bands, diamonds, and other geometric shapes, the clay reacts with the tannin and a dark brown design is left on the fabric. The background of the fabric is then bleached white or cream to improve the contrast of the design.

Mud cloth is worn for ceremonial purposes in Mali. The cloth serves as a celebratory outfit during young girls' initiation rituals and as a shroud during funerals. Although mainly worn by women, mud cloth is also worn proudly by hunters to signal their status in their

Kuba Cloth

Cloth being decorated with mud. Mud cloth patterns symbolize the use of the cloth or convey messages to the wearer.

permission of social group. The beauty of the fabric has prompted the creation of variations on the basic design. A lighter weight version of the cloth is used for tablecloths and sheets. Men make stenciled cloth for tourists and some mud cloth is commercially made for export.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Cloth being decorated with mud. Mud cloth patterns symbolize the use of the cloth or convey messages to the wearer.

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© Margaret Courtney-Clarke./ CORBIS.

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  • Caty Carlin
    Excellent article, thank you.<br />I am doing a presentation on cultural messages in cloth. Would you allow me to use your photo referencing your<br />article? I would be so grateful.<br />thank you<br />Caty
    9 years ago
  • sara
    How to make kuba cloth?
    8 years ago
  • tomba
    When is Kuba Cloth worn?
    4 years ago
  • vincenzo
    What are kuba cloths of ghana?
    4 years ago

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