Kuba cloth is a raffia cloth woven by the Bakuba people of modern day DRC. The fibre is peeled from the leaves of the Raffia Vinifera Palm and woven into small plain weave panels on a locally specific single heddle loom. Generally the base cloth would be two feet squared and joined together to create the final cloth. Although sometimes remaining plain, these cloths are most notably decorated using a cut pile technique of embroidery in which where patterns are created through a form of embroidery using dyed raffia fibre with the loose ends cut to create a velvet textured surface similar to that of a rug.  

These cloths have been used as a trading commodity from around the 16th century and continuing in prevalence into the 20th. The cloth functioned as important commercial capital, being used both as a currency and a symbol of social status. They were offered as tributes towards the royal family, brokering of marriage contracts, purchasing of slaves, payment of fines and celebrations of birth. Highly valued elaborate panels known as ‘prestige panels’ were displayed at court ceremonies and funerals and were collected both locally and abroad. It is said that the acquisition of these textiles by European artists and designers influenced the development of 20th century European Abstraction.

The Kuba cloth continues to be used in certain rituals such as funeral displays and burials.



Reading List

Mason, B. 2019. ‘Behind the Beautiful Kuba Fabric of Central Africa’ The Spruce. Online

Art Institvte Chicago. ‘Panel’ Online

Africa and Beyond Art Gallery. ‘Kuba Cloth (#3) – D.R. Congo’ Online

Image credits

Above: Kuba Textiles, Mid 20th C via Hamill Gallery

Featured Image: Panel, Kuba, Early/mid–20th century via The Art Institute of Chicago

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