cloth is just starting to become popular in the United States. Using the leaf of
the raffia tree, the Kuba people of the Congo first hand cut, and then weave the
strips of leaf to make pieces of fabric, often called raffia cloth. There are
several different sub groups of the Kuba people. Each group has different and
unique ways to make the fabric. Some make it thicker, longer, shorter, or with
different patches. Each patch is symbolic and many times a piece has many
different meanings. When Kuba cloth originated there were probably no patches
used, but as the cloth is brittle it is quite likely that the patches were used
to repair the frequent tears. Later each patch developed a meaning, many
patterns are uniquely arranged to tell a story.
The process of making Kuba cloth is extremely time consuming and may take
several days to form a simple placemat size piece. The men first gather the
leaves of the raffia tree and then dye it using mud, indigo, or substances from
the camwood tree. They then rub the raffia fibers in their hands to soften it
and make it easier for weaving. After they've completed the base cloth the women
embroider it. They do this by pulling a few threads of the raffia fibers,
inserting them into a needle running the needle through the cloth until the
fibers show up on the opposite end. They then take a knife and cut off the top
of the fibers, leaving only a little bit showing. Doing this hundreds of times
forms a design. The designs are seldom planned out ahead of time, and most of
the embroidery is done by memory.
The Kuba people, who developed this and many other fabrics were very
resistant to using European cloth; and for many years seldom used machine made
fabrics. When researching this and other cloths that the Kuba people developed,
it is not hard to understand why they resisted the change so much. Each fabric,
each pattern, and each design in traditional Kuba fabrics
has great meaning. On
the basis of what a person wore; you could interpret much about them. Social
status age, marital status, and a person's character were just a few of the
things a piece of cloth symbolized to these people.
Own a piece of this fabric today; not only will you be sharing in the culture
of these ingenious people, but you will experience the true art of the Kuba
people as well. Made in Congo
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