The textiles of the Kuba kingdom are among the most distinctive and spectacular works of African art. Emerging in the early seventeenth century, the Kuba kingdom grew into a powerful and wealthy confederation of eighteen different ethnic groups located in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Using the leaf of the raffia tree, the Kuba people first hand cut, and then weave the strips of leaf to make pieces of fabric, often called raffia cloth. There are several different sub groups of the Kuba people. Each group has different and unique ways to make the fabric. Some make it thicker, longer, shorter, or with different patches. Each patch is symbolic and many times a piece has many different meanings.

The true jewels of textile art are the Shoowa cut-pile cloths. Their complex interplay of geometric symbols, inventive rhythm and balance, uniquely individual designs and “velvet” surfaces created objects so mysteriously alluring the Kuba people traded them as currency. They were the standard by which a family’s wealth and status were judged.


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