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Object Timeline

-0001

0207

1901

  • Work on this object began.

1940

  • Work on this object ended.

2007

2017

  • You found it!

Men's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century

This is a Men's ceremonial skirt. It is dated early 20th century and we acquired it in 2007. Its medium is raffia and its technique is hand-loomed plain weave, pieced, with appliqué and embroidery. It is a part of the Textiles department.

This skirt was made by the people of the Kuba tribal confederacy of the Kasai river area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are well-known for their raffia textiles and other decorative arts. They employ a wide range of techniques, including weaving, appliqué, embroidery, cut-pile, and resist-dyeing, and use these techniques in varied combinations to create visually dynamic textiles of great depth.
The weaving is done by men. The fibers of raffia are stripped from the palm leaf, scraped, and combed, but they are not twisted to form longer yarns. The dimensions of the cloth are limited to the natural length of the fiber, which is usually about one meter. The finished cloth is pounded to soften the fibers and give it a linen like quality. The small squares that result are stitched together to form a larger cloth—ceremonial dance skirts are often in excess of 15 feet long. The skirts are so long because, customarily, they are wrapped many times around the body and secured with a belt so that the upper edge flops over. The stitching used to connect the small panels is decorative and employs a unique technique of turning the seam allowances to the outside and stitching them with a contrasting raffia thread in a different color. The appliqué and embroidery embellishments are added by women, often with several working together on a single garment. The skirts are worn by both men and women, although the design schemes vary. Women’s skirts often include complex appliqué and buttonhole embroidery, while the men’s often incorporate a checkerboard pattern.

This early 20th-century textile is an example of a woman’s skirt made from panels of woven undyed raffia, seamed together and embroidered with natural and dark brown raffia. Scattered across the surface are irregularly shaped patches of undyed and dark brown raffia fabric, which have been applied with dark brown stitching in an appliqué technique. The skirt is nearly complete, lacking perhaps only one plain end panel, which would be worn against the body.

This object was agent: Paul F. Walter. It is credited Gift of Marilyn Walter Grounds.

Our curators have highlighted 6 objects that are related to this one. Here are three of them, selected at random:

  • Tikdis Shawl, 2008
  • silk and metallic foundation, appliquéd with tikdis dots of brocaded cotton....
  • Courtesy of dosa inc..
  • 87.2015.6

Its dimensions are

H x W: 99.1 x 567.7 cm (39 x 223 1/2 in.)

Cite this object as

Men's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century; raffia; H x W: 99.1 x 567.7 cm (39 x 223 1/2 in.); Gift of Marilyn Walter Grounds; 2007-14-1

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18709763/ |title=Men's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=26 March 2017 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>

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