The History of the Kuba Cloth from Central Africa

Have you ever come across the Kuba cloth? Do you know its history? This is a piece of globally recognized textile that is designed by the Kuba people of Central Africa. Kuba means “the people of lighting” and belong to the Kuba Kingdom. The kingdom was formed by a ruler called Shyaam a-Mbul a Ngoong-shyaam, the son of a native queen, in the 17th century. It consisted of eight bantu-speaking ethnic communities and were all governed by an elected Bushongo king.


It was during the Shyaam’s rule that new forms of government were introduced and each Kuba community was represented in parliament. This led to strong competition for the open government positions and enabled the growth and advancement of the Kuba weaving art. As the Kuba Kingdom grew and flourished, more and more wealthy people embraced fashion and art, and they used it to augment their status in the society and gain leadership positions in the new government.


As a consequence, the Kuba artisan’s efforts bore fruits and their skills became more sophisticated. So, they increased their productivity levels and introduced masks and statues that became so profitable. In the Kuba Kingdom, each tribe has its unique weaving style and this is the reason why the Kuba cloth entails a variety of looks.  It is used to make several different items, including a Kuba cloth pillow for home decoration.


How Kuba textiles are woven

Any real Kuba textile you are going to find online, including kuba cloth pillows, is woven using the leaves of the Raffia Vinifera Palm.  As a result, the textile is alternatively called a Raffia cloth. Prior to the weaving process, the raffia fibers are collected and stripped with bare hands or a stripping comb. After this, these fibers are woven into a piece of cloth using a single heddle loom. Soon after it has gone through the loom, the cloth may be dyed or put through a different treatment process to make it soft.


While men are responsible for weaving and dyeing the base of the Raffia cloth, ladies do embroidery and the task of connecting the pieces of cloth together to turn them into a complete product. Hence, the Kuba cloth pillows you see online were designed through four techniques. These are embroidery, appliqué, patchwork and dyeing. The embroidery work is further categorized into uncut, cut pile, and open work.


If you like the velvet appearance, the best Kuba cloth pillow to purchase for home designing is the one which was made through cut pile embroidery. While open work embroidered designs are made by removing the warp and weft threads of the base cloth, the appliqué ones consists of pieces of fabric that are attached to the base cloth. There is also patchwork that entails cutting away pieces of the base cloth to form a particular pattern and then filling in the created gaps by patching the back or front of the base cloth with a piece of fabric that is shaped in the same way as the missing one. 

What do patterns on Kuba cloth mean?

The motifs reflect the cultural beliefs of the Kuba people and they create stunning Kuba cloth pillow designs. They symbolize the intersection between nature and the locals’ culture. These people have a supernatural deity called Woot, who was the son of the Earth-Mother and Sky-father. Woot was a teacher of culture and he used weaving to demonstrate his teachings about life as well.


Thus, some of the Kuba textile patterns are drawn from the nature itself while others are not.  Some kinds of Kuba weaving arts and designs are flexible while others are rigid and customary.  They have been handed down from one generation to another. So far there are up to two hundred patterns and you can buy Kuba cloth pillows that have any motifs you would like.