The embroidered and appliquéd raffia cloths of the Kuba peoples of Congo are very familiar to collectors of African textiles and to all those with an interest in indigenous African design. Remarkable and beautiful though the finest Kuba cloths were, they are only the best known and most easily found of what was once an extensive variety of raffia textiles woven by almost all peoples of the Congo basin. Today it seems likely that only Kuba cloths are still made in Congo and the few non-Kuba examples that occasionally reach the market come mainly from old European collections assembled in the colonial period. The best place to see examples from these other areas is in museum collections, some of which are now accessible on-line. I will have more to say about these in subsequent posts.
Last week at a small "tribal" art fair here in London I greatly admired an early C20th mat attributed by the dealer to the Mangbetu people. It reminded me to look again at this obscure and unjustly neglected aspect of surface design in Congo. These amazing and exceptionally rare examples are all from the collection of the Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. As yet they are not on-line - these images are scanned from COART, E. La Nattes. Annales du Musée du Congo (1927)