|Title||Pygmy Mbuti Barkcloth Ituri Rainforest Congo African Art|
|Type of Object||Barkcloth|
|Country of Origin||Democratic Republic of Congo|
|Approximate Age||20th century|
|Overall Condition||Good. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners. Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use. We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings. Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.|
These fascinating cloths with their simple abstract markings are made by the Mbuti people of Congo's Ituri rainforest.
Additional information: The Mbuti people who live in the Ituri rainforest of Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, are one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer cultures in the world.
Since 3500 BC, they have been famed for their rich and extraordinary arts of music and dancing, but until recently, the barkcloth drawings and paintings made by Mbuti women have been virtually unknown in the West.
Originally made as loincloths for ceremonies and dances, these drawings are sophisticated abstract compositions embodying the qualities of improvisation and syncopation that are associated with the African visual and musical sensibility.
Recommended Reading: For more information and similar examples, see MBUTI DESIGN-PAINTINGS BY PYGMY WOMEN OF THE ITURI FOREST. by Meurant and Thompson.
Additional Information: The Mbuti people of the Ituri Forest in the Republic of the Congo are among the last living groups who still have a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The barkcloth paintings done by the pygmy Mbuti women are singularly beautiful.
The Greek word “pygmy” comes to us from The Iliad, the oldest poem in Western culture. The existence of groups of short people in the Congo has been documented by Stanley and others before him; there are a number of groups of “pygmies” but only the Mbuti produce painted barkcloth.
The barkcloth is made from several trees, most often the latex ficus. They are made of bast, which is found between the bark and the sap of the tree. Women and children wear one rectangle hung in front, like a skirt, and sometimes an additional one in back. Men wear one covering the buttocks, brought between the legs to the waist, where it is held by a belt, and draped over the top.
A woman chooses the tree and a man cuts the tree and removes the bast, which is then soaked in water, and hammered, two or more times. The pagnes are not painted except for special events. Women do the painting using natural dyes from fruits. The most common blue-black dye is from the gardenia.
See Mbuti Design, by George Meurant.
We do not recommend laundering textiles, and do not accept returns of textiles which have been laundered in any manner. Even dry cleaning is too much for some of these antique textiles. For some of them, a very gentle HAND washing (NEVER MACHINE, on any setting) in cool water with a very gentle detergent works, but even then, dyes may not be colorfast, and fabric may be less strong than it appears.