Kuba Nchak Dance Skirt
- Tribe: Kuba
- Origin: DRC
- Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
- Materials: Raffia
- Dimensions cm: 160 x 59
- Ref. Number: 1103
Stunningly elaborate rare Kuba Nchak Dance Skirt. Beautifully made by the Kuba people of Democratic Republic of Congo. The dance skirt, Nchak is also known as Ntshak. Made of three panels of woven raffia, with a delicate embroidered pattern/design, surrounded or edged with wide strips of cut-pile textile. These strips also embellished with embroidered triangles and circles. Being made using a black dyed raffia along with the “ajour” work in the middle makes this dance skirt a little more unusual / rare.
Provenance: Ex Seward Kennedy Collection
All Kuba textiles, whether intended for sacred or everyday use, show an exuberance and enthusiasm for decoration. Even the men’s plain weave skirts (mapel), which were designed to be simple, have traces of decoration. The complex embroidery patterns on Kuba textiles are designed and sewn by women, who work exclusively from memory. It is their duty to decide how to create the contrast of colour, line, and texture that determines the textile’s final appearance. The colours play a key role, they are used to not only emphasize but also reinforce the geometric designs that give each textile its distinctive graphic quality.
The Nchak for ordinary day-to-day wear is a white or red garment worn wrapped around the lower body and held at the waist or beneath the breasts by a folded band of cloth or belt made of twisted fiber. Nchak used by women in ceremonial dances are considerably longer than those used for every day wear. Some Nchak dance skirts can be as long as fourteen to thirty feet long being made up of anywhere between six to twelve panels. However today Nchak are made up of square or rectangular pieces of cloth sewn together lengthwise and assembled in such a way as to show off the unity of the panels or of their lateral movement, which is accented either by the use of alternating panels dyed red or black, or by sewing together panels of different dimensions.
It is not rare today to see Nchak dance skirts made up of both old and recently made panels. The quality of the workmanship involved, and particularly the skill with which the patches are applied and their placement, is and can be a good indicator of whether a particular skirt is old or not.
The Kuba are primarily farmers, and they have developed a society in which everyone plays his or her distinctive role. Textile production is one such activity in which men and women work together. While it is the women who cultivate the palms from which the cloths are made, the men are the ones who gather the fronds, make the raffia out of the palm-leaf fibers and then weave the mats on upright looms. The woven mats are then quite often soaked in water, and then beaten to make them soft. Sizes of cloth pieces depend on the size of the loom and the size of the person operating the loom.
When sewn together for usage in garment creation, these costumes constitute an expression of wealth. They are used in dowries of matrimonial exchanges, currency as they are a valuable produce for trade and exchange, and are sometimes given in large quantities to the dead during funeral ceremonies. Kuba textiles also served to embellish the royal court, covers for the royal thrones, and to decorate a Kings palace walls. The best examples are quite costly and seldom, if ever, used for what we might term as everyday wear.
Textiles have been deeply ingrained into the lives of the Kuba people for hundreds of years, with each piece being a representation of hundreds of hours of time and devotion to producing a piece of art that brings great joy. However they are used, however plain or highly decorated the Kuba textile has its own timeless appeal.