Bark cloth is one of the first traceable fabrics created, with some records suggesting it pre-dates even the invention of weaving. First used as clothing, over time bark cloth evolved into a culturally significant material for the Bugandan people of Uganda, worn by dignitaries, coronate kings and healers.
The production of bark cloth was made compulsory for farmers in the 17th century for exporting to neighbouring countries in exchange for ivory, salt, copper and tobacco. Most households would have Mutuba trees from which the cloth could be made and a man would not be considered for marriage unless he could produce bark cloth for his bride!
Ugandan bark cloth (lubugo) is a complex and unique material, created by stripping the bark of the Mutuba tree. The Mutuba tree does not die when the bark is removed and can be harvested every year for up to 50 years! It also requires extremely low amounts of water and energy to produce, much lower than cotton. Talk about sustainable practice.
From start to finish, each bark cloth product is created completely by hand, using techniques practiced and passed down by the Ugandan people from generation to generation.
After the bark has been removed, the bark is beaten with a nsaamu (mallet) for several hours until it becomes supple, soft and three to four times its original size.
Aloyzious Luwemba, beats the bark with a nsaamu (mallet).
The tree is then wrapped in banana leaves to allow airflow to the trunk, while protecting it from the harsh equatorial sun. This process allows the bark to grow back for re-harvesting within a year.
Paul, an award-winning 9th generation bark cloth maker (and also Aloyzious’s Dad!) stretches out and measures panels of bark cloth with each large sheet came from a single tree. The finished piece of cloth can be as long as 8m and as wide as 4m.
Bark cloth comes in varying natural shades created by the time of year, the type or age of tree and where it has grown. The black bark cloth you’ll see in our black clay Kasubi cushions is made by burying natural bark cloth in local clay for 2-3 days.
With its soft suede-like touch and stunning natural desert hues, t’s easy to see why this gorgeous fabric was once known as the cloth of kings.
Shop the Uganda Collection here.