Kuba Cloth

In the present-day nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the Kuba people weave a decorative cloth called Kuba cloth. Although this tradition is believed to be ancient, the oldest surviving examples of the cloth are dated back to the seventeenth century. Men weave the fabric out of raffia fibers, from a palm plant, and women apply colorful tufts in bold geometric designs. An entire social group is involved in the production of the cloth, from gathering the fibers, weaving the cloth, dyeing the decorative strands, to applying the embroidery, appliqué, or patchwork. Natural dyes were traditionally used, but man-made dyes are now used.

The embroidery on Kuba cloth look like tufts of velvet. The designs are stitched to the cloth and snipped to make a dense pile. There are hundreds of designs for Kuba cloth that have been handed down through the generations. However, each design can be embellished by the individual weaver. Appliqués are pieces of raffia cloth embroidered over the top of the base cloth. Patchwork involves stitching together smaller pieces of raffia cloth to create a whole garment. Appliqué and patchwork designs may have been created as a decorative method for patching holes.

Kuba cloth is fashioned into ceremonial garments and is most often worn for funerals. Mourners often wear large skirts made of Kuba cloth, and people are buried wearing Kuba cloth garments. Ceremonial garments include skirts for both men and women and overskirts for women. Women's skirts are often twenty-five feet long and men's skirts are longer than thirty feet. Kuba cloth skirts are wound around the body and held in place with a belt. Commercially made Kuba cloth of inferior quality is also created for export.


Blauer, Ettagale. African Elegance. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Svenson, Ann E. "Kuba Textiles: An Introduction." WAAC Newsletter (January 1968): 2–5.

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