Student Interpretation → Kristin Tibbits
Kuba Personal Adornment
These textiles are similar in materials and are symbols of status among the Kuba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. These objects are worn in ceremonial and funerary contexts by title-holding individuals. The belts are adorned with geometrically patterned rows of colored glass beads and cowries on woven raffia. Belts like these are worn by the deceased during funerary ceremonies across the waist to emphasize the layers of cloth underneath, representing the wealth and position of the owner. The hats are also decorated with glass beads and cowry shells. The man's hat would be worn by high-ranking men at initiation ceremonies and funerals. This decorated hat is more elaborate than the laket worn daily by Kuba men and the surface is entirely covered with shells and beads, indicating the wealth of the owner. The mpaan, or woman's hat is also worn by women in funerary contexts. It symbolizes a woman's social status and achievements and is buried with her after her death. Historically, cowry shells and beads are imported goods and their use in decorating these objects denotes power and wealth of the wearer as well as the continuity of Kuba traditions.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Belt (yeemy mambolmshet)
Raffia, natural dyes, cowrie shells, glass beads
Gift of Rod McGalliard
4 in. x 7 ft. 2 ½ in. (10.2 x 219.7 cm)
Elaborately beaded belts are graded according to length and the number of intricate beaded panels. This one with three panels is considered modest compared to those with five. The interlace design on the red, blue and white glass beaded panel is called imbol, and it is the most prominent of all Kuba designs. Variations of imbol are found on textiles, architecture and sculptures for nobles and royals. Tukula, or tool, is a precious red pigment rubbed into the cowries. The belt is worn loosely knotted in the front, accentuating the interplay of the beadwork patterns with those on the voluminous raffia skirts.