KUBA: The most underrated textile in the world

We are living in the best time to connect artisans to the Global market. – Tina Lobondi

 

It was important for me to take some time to explore the textiles of the country I am from, Congo. One of them significantly stood out every time. The Kuba textile…  You may or not have heard of it but you definitely have seen it a few times in your life on television, store, textiles, frames, and so on….. I recently discovered a brand called Duarra Limited. And immediately fell in love with the work they were doing.

KUBA KINGDOM HISTORY

The Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are located around the Sankuru river in the Kasai region. It’s a tribe made up of 18 sub-groups.

The Kingdom was established in the 17th century by king Shyaam. It had a more developed state institutions than other independent villages and chieftaincy in the region. It also had an unwritten constitution, separation of political powers, a judicial system with courts and juries, a police force and military, taxation and significant public provision.

The base cloth, called “Mbal”, is made from the dried leaves of the raffia palm tree. To produce the cloth, the leaves are first dried and then stripped down to individual fibers before being woven. In the the Kuba culture, men are responsible for the cultivation of the raffia palm and the weaving of the cloth. The women are responsible for transforming the raffia cloth into various forms of textiles.

 

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Photo credits: http://en.lisapoyakama.org/the-kuba-kingdom/

The patterns of the textile communicate essentials informations about the Kuba as individuals and as a society. They are an important marker of social status, lineage and ethnicity. Finally, some textiles are used for funerals and festive events.

The textiles isn’t decorated with human or animal fugures, but with exquisite abstract designs. Although the Kuba people have been producing textiles for four hundred years, their traditional designs are strikingly modern.

Avant-garde European artists like Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Grace Hartzel were greatly inspired by the various abstract pattern of the Kuba textiles.

 

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

The first explorer to discover the existence of the Kuba people was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian.

Whenever a king dies, the capital moves to the location of the new king

Several restaurant venues in Salzburg, owned by Austria’s Red Bull founder, display a good selection of Kuba textiles.

 

KUBA FACTS

Wealthy members of society supported Fashion and Arts, which in turn augmented their status and increased their chances of being named to a lofty post. As a result, the efforts of the Kuba artisans became sophisticated and varied.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

 

The Kuba are also called the Bakuba.

The Kuba kingdom wasn’t affected by the Arabs and European slave trades. It was only destabilised when the Belgians came to Congo at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Kuba society is matriarchal. The eldest woman from the royal family is the true sovereign and she could make the kind stand down.

The Kuba is made up of 18 different tribes but only 4 tribes have gained recognition for their artistic endeavours. The Bushongo, Ngende, Ngongo and Shoowa.

The Kuba’s primary contemporary use of the textile is at funerals of wealthy elders and sometimes weddings.

The Kuba textile was also use as a currency.

 

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Picture credits: http://pandorasantafe.com/kuba-cloth-from-africa/

 

There are four major techniques for producing finished Kuba cloth: embroidery, applique, patchwork and dyeing.

Embroideries, often called “Kuba velours”, have a velvet-like texture while the uncut variety display similar pattern work with a flat appearance.

The applique and patchwork are mirror images of each other. The former required attaching additional pieces of fabric to a base cloth to create a pattern effect. The latter involves cutting away pieces of the base cloth to create a pattern then filling in the gaps by patching the front or back of the base cloth with fabric in the shape of the missing piece.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

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