Kuba Cloth Skirt

Democratic Republic of Congo


Kuba Cloth Skirt, 20th century

  • Not On View

Raffia palm fiber and dye

Dimensions: 182 × 28 in. (462.3 × 71.1 cm)

Museum purchase, 2006.122

The Kuba use fibers from the leaves of raffia palms to create some of the most elaborate textiles in Africa. The length of the fibers, which are usually three to five feet, determine the size of the panels. To make a larger cloth, several smaller ones are sewn together. Kuba textiles rarely replicate designs exactly, but rather use them as a basis for improvisational experimentation. Highly decorated raffia skirts are important prestige objects created and worn by both men and women in Kuba society. They are essential parts of elaborate costumes worn on ceremonial occasions and are also used in funerary rituals. The skirts are wrapped around the body several times. In Kuba society, the process of making textiles is as important as the finished textiles themselves. The creation of a woman’s skirt is coordinated by a clan matriarch who prepares the materials, determines the overall design and distributes panels of cloth to other women in her clan. The individual pieces are then decorated with appliqué and embroidery and returned to the matriarch for assembly. The process is much like that of an American quilting bee, with the end product reflecting the aesthetic sensibilities and skill levels of the many women involved.

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