The process of making Kuba cloth is extremely time consuming and may take several days to form a simple place mat sized piece.
Traditionally, the men used to first gather the leaves of the raffia tree and then dye them using mud, indigo or substances from the camwood tree.
They then rub the raffia fibers in their hands to soften them and make it easier for weaving. After they’ve completed the base cloth, the women would embroider it. They do this by running a needle with a few raffia fibers through the cloth until the fibers show up on the opposite end.
They then took a knife and cut off the top of the fibers, leaving only a little bit showing. Doing this hundreds of times forms a design. The designs are seldom planned out ahead of time, and most of the embroidery is done by memory.
The Kuba people, who invented this, and many other fabrics were very resistant to using European cloth; and for many years, seldom used machine made fabrics. When researching this and other textiles that the Kuba people developed, it is not hard to understand why they resisted the change so much.
Each fabric, each pattern, and each design in traditional Kuba fabrics has great meaning.
Social status, age, marital status, and a person’s character are just a few of the things a piece of cloth symbolizes to these people. Own a piece of this fabric today; not only will you be sharing in the culture of these ingenious people, but you will experience the true art of the Kuba people as well.