220656 - Rare African Pygmy Mbuti Barkcloth Ituri Rainforest, Congo


Rare Pygmy Mbuti Barkcloth Ituri Rainforest - Congo
Height: 80 cm x 35 cm.

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Originally made as loincloths for ceremonies and dances, these drawings are sophisticated abstract compositions embodying the qualities of improvisation and syncopation that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.

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 and rare.

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.

These magnificent objects are made with tree bark, more precisely the fibrous substance contained under the hardest surface layer of the trunk (Liber). These bark fibers are beaten until they are fine and supple. If it is the Pygmy women of the Ituri forests who determine the tree from which the bark will be taken, it is the men who will beat it and prepare it using mallets. Symbolic patterns are then painted by the women, with charcoal mixed with latex. The finished product is called murumba, pongo or lengbe. The use of several tree species, in particular ficus, explains the colors ranging from white to orange through brown. It is a very accomplished art, as J. Cornet points out. Worn or used in the context of ritual ceremonies, these works are the supports of a spiritual necessity.

Recommended Reading: For more information and similar examples, see MBUTI DESIGN-PAINTINGS BY PYGMY WOMEN OF THE ITURI FOREST. by Meurant and Thompson.