Rafia cloth panel -- perhaps part of a skirt? -- with applied cowry shells and fringe
The Kuba people of Zaire weave a wide variety of cloth made from rafia, a natural fiber from palm leaves. The material is stripped into very fine threads, soaked and pounded to make them flexible, and dyed in vegetal or mineral pigments to create a variety of colors. The Kuba employ a variety of weaving and decoration techniques. This textile uses applied fiber and shells to achieve the desired geometric designs.
This textile may have been part of a skirt. It is woven of natural rafia fiber, which has been dyed with a red mineral (like the red clay Kuba woman use as body decoration), and is believed to date from before 1960. I bought it from a large collection of garments collected by a man who lived in Zaire in the 1980s.
Dimensions are about 20 inches wide and 94 inches long. It was formed from a number of pieces of plain rafia textile, joined using natural rafia thread, then dyed and decorated. The border pieces and rafia fringe were were made from separate pieces. These were then attached by hand using rafia thread. The geometric design is made from cowry shells and another natural fiber wound into small balls.
Overall condition is Good, with some light wear and slight soil possible. A number of small applique patches appear to have been added, and there are also a few small worn spots on the borders and in the body. This was obviously a well used fabric, but remains in very nice condition. The following photos progress across the textile, so the entire piece is shown. Then follow a couple close-ups.