Woman’s Ceremonial Skirt
D.R. Congo, Bushong people
Early 20th century
Pounded and dyed inner bark (Ficus); piecing
Size: 104 3/4"  x 18 1/2"    266 x 47 cm 

Price on request

Andres Moraga

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This striking wraparound skirt was made for an aristocratic woman of the Bushong ruling group, possibly a member of the royal clan, since they were the only Kuba who were entitled to wear barkcloth, which was otherwise restricted to mourning and funerary rite.  It is likely to have been worn as an overskirt, layered on top of a long ceremonial skirt, for a specific rite or dance. 

Only a small number of these remarkable textiles survive in museum collections, such as the Royal Africa Museum, Tervuren.  Most were collected early in the 20th century and the tradition appears to have disappeared since then, replaced by the better known, short ishyeen dance overskirt crafted from tiny black and white bark triangles or squares. 

Fabricated with short lengths and geometric shapes cut from of mud(?) dyed and undyed bark cloth, the graphic four-panel design has great visual impact.  The same combination of patterns is noted in other examples, which suggests an aesthetic convention and possibly particular symbolic meaning. The interlocking “basketweave,” zigzag, and concentric diamond patterns are more closely related to the motifs utilized in cut-pile prestige cloth, both the panels embroidered as men’s status cloth and women’s velvet overskirts, than to the freehand appliqué style of women’s dance skirts.

For comparison see Vanessa Drake Moraga, Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa (The Textile Museum 2011), Plate 67.

Andres Moraga :: Kuba Skirt
Andres Moraga :: Kuba Skirt