The Kuba Tribe


The Kuba tribe, also known as the Bakuba Tribe, compromises of about 16 Bantu-speaking groups in southeastern Congo (DRC.)

In the 16th century, the Kuba people migrated from the distant north to their current location along the Sankuru River. When they arrived, they found that the Twa people already lived there. The Twa were eventually absorbed into the Kuba Kingdom, but retained some independent cultural characteristics. The height of the Kingdom was during the mid-19th century. Europeans first reached the area in 1884, but the Kuba, being relatively isolated, were not as affected by the slave trade as many of the other tribes in the area. In the late 19th century, the Nsapo invaded and the Kingdom was broken up to a large extent.

The Kuba people have kept aloof from modern life, and few have emigrated or engage in European-style occupations. The groups are divided into lineages related through matrilineal descent; the lineages are segments of numerous dispersed clans..
Nature spirits, the spirits of dead kings, and witchcraft dominate Kuba religion. Nearly all objects of daily use are decorated, and carved wooden figurines, initiation masks, cups, and beautifully embroidered handwoven raffia cloth are especially prized by collectors.

These handcrafted nineteenth-century fabrics were woven from raffia palm fibers and used in dowries; the larger ones served as festive attire at funerals. In fact, these cloths are renown worldwide for being of high quality in both design and technical achievement. Kuba cloths had been shown in early African art shows in Paris that the famous modernist Matisse may have attended, and he owned several Kuba cloths in his collection. Matisse’s correspondence indicates their inspiration for the paper cutouts, such as the 1951 Snow Flowers, that were his final major works. After hanging panels of the Kuba textiles across his studio walls, Matisse wrote in letters to his sister that he often looked at them for long periods, waiting for something to come to him.




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