The Ngongo pillow is a one-of-a-kind appliqued patchwork pillow made from raffia Kuba cloth and handwoven by Congolese refugees living in Kenya. Each piece of Kuba cloth is unique as the maker tells her own story through her stitching and placement of pattern. The Kuba cloth is amazing and entirely created by hand.
21” x 16” (53.3 cm x 40.6 cm)
Front - raffia
Back - polyester blend, in ecru
Polyester pillow insert
Congolese makers in Kenya
The flatwoven Kuba cloth is richly distinctive and was first discovered at the end of the 15th century when Portuguese explorers reached the coastline of what is now the Congo and Angola. The time- consuming fabric making process remains the same today. Both men and women are involved in the production of the fabric. First, leaves are gathered from the raffia tree and dyed in earth tone colors using mud, indigo or substances from the Camwood tree. The raffia is softened by rubbing the fiber in their hands or gently pounding the raffia to make it easier for weaving. After the base cloth is finished, the women begin to embellish the fabric using techniques such as applique, reverse applique, embroidery, and patchwork. Base cloths can be three to five yards long with each small appliqued panel different from the next. It is said that the women make up the designs as they go and that embroidery is done from memory using raffia threads pulled from the cloth. Appliqué patterns are arranged to tell a story and each patch is symbolic.
This particular pillow has a bold applique design in black and natural raffia with black and natural patterns on each side. It is a common characteristic of the fabric to have fraying ends.
My Kuba cloths were made by Congolese refugees living in Kenya and acquired while I was visiting a fair trade organization called Salom in Nairobi, Kenya. The organization was supporting this group of refugees by buying their Kuba cloth and using it in bags and other products. Two pieces that I own have been hanging on my living room walls for several years and I continue to appreciate them as a true art form.