7 Looms a Weaving: Kuba Cloth


Kuba Congo
Country/ People: Democratic Republic of the Congo;  Bantu-speaking people

(Central Africa)

Loom: single heddle loom

Border: sample weave

mbote (mboh-teh) — Hello in Lingala, a Bantu language


The Kuba (Bakuba)  people are a large Bantu-speaking group, who live in the Republic of the Congo. In the 1600s, the Kuba Kingdom consisted of more than 18 individual tribes, and thanks  to the ivory trade, this was a wealthy kingdom. Yet, while diversity was valued in artistic expression, woven raffia cloth (Kuba cloth) as a medium is most associated with this entire ethnic group. Through the years, patterns on the cloth have evolved from subtle to bold. And this may be a result of the individual groups seeking to express their own cultural identity and to exert their power through their creations. In the 1800s, Belgium, interested in the rubber trade, colonized the Congo. Despite trade with Europe, Kuba cloth became even more valued as a symbol of the traditional Kuba kingdom. Their cloth was so valued, in fact, the Kuba became known as “people of the cloth.��



Kuba cloth is made of raffia stripped from the leaves of the raffia palm tree. It is a cultural tradition that men  prepare of the raffia using natural dyes (mud, indigo, etc.) and actually weave the basic cloth. They work on a unique, inclined, single-heddle loom.


The women combine the pieces of raffia cloth and apply the decorative patterns. They hand embroider or applique the designs using raffia fibers in linear patterns. Ultimately, the women create a distinctive fabric with a cut-pile, velvet-like, plush effect.  What is so distinguishing about Kuba cloth patterns, it its contrast of light and dark color hues and its tendance toward the abstract.  A single, place-mat sized piece of fabric may take several days to create. Often the fabric pieces are patched together to form larger fabrics.


Border: Sample weaving pattern.


References and Links:

·       Command Performance: Kuba Cloths from Central Africa.·       Kuba Cloth. (Good examples of Kuba cloth)·       Mokry,Fiona,  Travel Trivia. 7 Unique Textiles From Around the World and How They’re Made/ Kuba Cloth·       Video: "Kuba Textile Art and the Significance of Raffia Cloth in Bakuba Society” Lecture by Ashley Rickma.·       Video: Kuba cloth from Congo - watch it being made. Learn the history.·    Your Ultimate Guide To Kuba Cloth.
·       Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa. The Textile Museum


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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin