By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kuba peoples

Cut-pile cloth

Raffia fiber

W. 71.12 cm (28")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.618

The association of raffia cloth with wealth was, in the past, a very literal one; squares of raffia cloth were used as currency before European coinage came into use. In addition, the cloth plays an integral role in funeral ceremonies, for it is used to dress the corpse, and pieces of raffia cloth may also be buried with the deceased. According to Kuba belief, the soul of a deceased person travels to the land of the dead where it dwells until being reborn. It is imperative that the deceased be wearing raffia cloth—a symbol of Kuba identity—in order to be recognized by other Kuba souls (Darish 1990: 135). 

A former regent, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Angelo Turconi.