Textile Arts

Unique BaKuba Tie-dyed Raffia Skirt

Unique BaKuba Tie-dyed Raffia Skirt

The Bushong/BaKuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo  produce exquisite textiles for ceremonial use. This long, narrow textile is a full noblewoman’s skirt that known as ntshakishwepy.

It is made of handwoven raffia palm leaf fiber and measures 31 in. x 302 in. When worn, it is wrapped around the woman’s body many times and secured with a belt. The plain weave raffia that creates the panels has been pounded in troughs of water to produce a supple fiber before the dying process. The softened cloth resembles fine linen in drape and feel.

The terra cotta coloration is from tukula, a natural pigment that is made from the heartwood of a special tree. This pigment is restricted to ceremonial use by the elite. This skirt features plangi, tie-dyed patterns of natural raffia color on the terra cotta ground. Tie dying is infrequently seen in BaKuba textiles.

This textile is in very good condition with a few worn places from the softening process. The subtle tones and elegant restraint in the alternating panels of pattern and plainweave is quietly dramatic. The continuous border of terra cotta plangi creates visual unity. Royal status is also denoted by the cowrie shells embellishing the edges of this handsome textile.