Producing Kuba Cloth – A Community Working Together

People have been weaving their own clothes for as long as hey have been wearing clothes. While the first item would have been basic and just to keep them warm, as time went on, he items became more elaborate and creative. Firstly, they were used to celebrate special events and later purely because the looked nice. It is said today that some clothing should be used as an art form and when it comes to Kuba cloth this is the case. The Central African residents of the Democratic Republic of Congo are producing items that are wanted as much outside Africa as they are wanted inside. Kuba cloth pillows can be found in houses across the world.

History of the people

18 Bantu-speaking groups gathered around Bushongo and took the name Kuba which means “people of lightening.” A king was selected, and people found that they could move up the ladder due to their talents rather than who their family members were. Weaving exceptional items was a way to be acknowledged and promoted.

Fashion was seen as a way to make money and as a result those in the industry pushed the boundaries when producing Kuba cloth pillows and other items.  In fact, it was all areas of the arts that were supported but Kuba cloth came out on top as the most exquisite and popular.

While a lot of the methods were the same, it became clear that different areas of the Kuba tribe had their own ideas on what a good design looked like. They do however all work well together and it is easy to tell if a cloth pillow is a Kuba cloth pillow.

Constructing the clothing

Kuba cloth is also known as raffia cloth although its production pre dates the use of the Raffia Vinifera palm. The process followed to make the cloth can be time consuming, but when the finished product is viewed it can be seen to be well worth it. The process is: -

  • The fibers are collected by hand or on occasions with a stripping comb. It tends to be the men who carry out this work
  • A heddle loom is used to weave the cloth.
  • Once the fabric is created it will be sent to be dyed. Often natural colorants will be used, but this is not always the case.
  • Fabric can be treated – normally a process of beating it – and once it is soft it will make items that feel much different to normal Kuba cloth.
It is good to see that there is a fair distribution of the workload between men and women. The men start the process and the women take over and carry out the more detailed work such as embroidering and joining the pieces so that they make a beautiful piece of Kuba cloth. Often this will be used to produce Kuba cloth pillows. The items that are exported are easily identified as the work of the Kuba people. The shades and designs are unique and many can be traced back for generations.