Kuba Cloth. Mark Phiri's artefact of the month Back
16 October, 2015
Kuba cloth is made in the DRC’s Kasai district from raffia palm leaves, which are collected, dried and stripped into narrow fibers. Strands of raffia are woven on a loom by the Kuba men after they are beaten with a pounder to soften the fibers. The women in the tribe are responsible for the detailed work of embroidery, patchwork, edgings and dyeing.
Kuba artists use a range of thick and thin plant threads, in various shades and colours, to create diversity in their designs. Patterns vary depending on the maker’s wishes. Plants, trees, roots and fruits are crushed to create natural pigments.
At first, Kuba cloths were considered dignitary textiles, covering the thrones of kings and queens. Their designs were painstakingly intricate, often taking up to 15 years to craft. As time went on cloths were adopted as clothes, blankets, used as currency, and wrapped around the bodies of respected community members during burial ceremonies as a sign of great honour.
Today, Kuba cloths are still considered a significant part of the Kuba tribe’s artistry and heritage, with certain designs only crafted for royalty. Of all the ethnic groups in the Africa, the Kuba people are said to be the best raffia artists.