Kuba Cloth and The Skill Of the D.R.Congo Weavers


The people of the former Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo – are well known for producing elaborate and complex designs when it comes to textiles. They tend to follow a pattern, with many being square or rectangular, and this will be the case regardless of it being a skirt or a Kuba cloth pillow covering that is being produced. The item starts out as raffia. But, due to the skill and patience of the women, they soon become some of the most amazing items you can imagine. They make:

  • Ceremonial skirts
  • Headdresses
  • Kuba cloth pillows
  • Velvet cloths
  • Basket work

Raffia cultivation

It is the men who begin the process by both growing and then weaving the raffia. There are two different types made and that is a plain woven cloth that is used for the basis of a lot of items, and then a more refined version – often turned to linen by the women – and they are used for important clothing items. The women tend to wear wrap around skirts with some having a cut pile design set around the bottom.

Magical twool

Some of the more prestigious pieces of cloth will be dyed. The deep red twool that is taken from tropical trees will be used. The Kuba think that there is a magical element to twool and when added to the fibres of the Kuba cloth, the wearer or user of the item will be protected.

20th century fabrics

The oldest items in existence are from the rule of Kota Pe and they are known as “Bambala” textiles. It was originally the pregnant women who were to produce the future heirs for the King who were embroidering the material. The Bushong women were doing this so that the Kuba cloth would be used for the ceremonies that would surround the birth of their children.

At the other end of the scale, the Kuba cloth was used during the funeral ceremonies. It would be noble women who wore them as they would not be considered suitable for poorer women to wear such items. It is clear from the way that they are produced that a lot of skill was required to complete the geometric designs and that a great deal of value was placed upon the women who could carry this out.

Kuba cloth pillow

To this day there are Kuba cloth pillows being made from raffia and being dyed before elaborate embroidery is added by hand. Many sellers are proud to say that there will not be any example of a Kuba cloth pillow that will be the same as another.

Each one will take a few days and a few people to produce. Depending upon the color required, the dye can come from mud or a substance from the camwood tree. The patterns are added from memory and will pass on storied from their past. The colors of the Kuba cloth pillows tend to be pale, brown and even some red hues appearing.