Raffia Textile Panel

Accession Number

Raffia Textile Panel


Artist Nationality
Kuba (Democratic Republic of Congo style)

Object Creation Date
19th century - 20th century

Medium & Support
raffia palm fiber

22 in x 5 1/4 in (55.88 cm x 13.34 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of the Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communications in memory of Warren M. Robbins

Subject matter
The Kuba peoples are renowned for their elaborate, geometrical surface design, such as applied to this cloth. Also referred to as cut pile, raffia cloth, Shoowa textile or Kasai velvet (Velours du Kaisai), Kuba cloth is often made from barkcloth: a felt fabric, typically not classified as a textile because it is not woven. Their plush “velvet” texture is achieved through the cut pile technique, where a sharp knife is used to gently clip off the tufts of the palm thread.

In the 19th century, decorated raffia cloth was used as a marker of prestige, as currency, to pay tribute, settle legal disputes, and in public displays such as the funerals of high-ranking titleholders. Additionally, they were often used as initiation objects during ceremonial rites of passage. Though barkcloth is the typical fabric, more recently industrial cloth has been used as a replacement.

The textiles are generally covered with geometric patterns, similar to patterns found on Kuba basketry, woodwork, sculpture, and female body scarifications. Patterns may be given names, but the same pattern will likely be given a different name by different people.

The diamond pattern in this cloth is created through a repetitive crossing of lines. A double crossing can possibly be considered a reference to Woot, the mythical founder of the Kuba, whose mother invented mat weaving.

Monni Adams, Kuba Embroidered Cloth, African Arts, 1978
Daniel Biebuyck, The Arts of Zaire, 1985
Georges Meurant, African Textiles from the Kingdom of Kuba, 1986
Roy Sieber, African Textiles and Decorative Arts, 1972

Physical Description
Rectangular panel with tan hemmed edges. This panel consists of a repeated beige diamond pattern with dark brown outlines, in addition to three large complete diamonds and 9 small diamonds with half diamonds bordering the panel. 

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
fiber art

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
embroidery (visual works)
geometric patterns
textile art (visual works)
textile components

& Author Notes

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