East Africa

Bark Cloth- Sustainable and non conventional Textile Header

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Bark Cloth (Lubugo in Luganda- which is the language spoken by the tribe that produces this cloth)  is a non woven fabric made from the bark of the MUTUBA (MITUBA- PLURAL)  Tree (FICUS NATALENSINS)   and is produced by the Baganda tribe in Uganda. It was widely used in dress making and was widely worn by the Kings and Queens of Uganda prior to the arrival of cotton which I think was introduced by Arabs or Indians.

The cloth is used widely in Uganda’s Art and Craft industry, Traditional ceremonies and as a burial shroud. The production process of  bark cloth is labour intensive. What I find really interesting about this fabric is that you have to plant more trees and if you cut down the trees, you have no chance of future harvest!

Fred Mutebi, a Ugandan, and his group asked me to help raise awareness of this fabric and hopefully bring it into mainstream use.  By way of trying to understand and learn about this group I asked Fred the group leader a couple of questions via email.

Who is involved and why?
As per the objective of LET ART TALK of empowering communities through Art, part of what we do is encouraging local people to use locally available materials. Bark cloth(Lubugo) is one of such materials.

Kibinge Sub County was once renowned for bark cloth making. However, the craft has been dying out in the past couple of decades.
It is an agricultural area where everybody is now affected by the current threat of climatic change and global warming. The communities have now realized the importance of trees to agriculture. The Mutuba tree is the most friendly agro forestry tree.

So by planting more Mituba trees, we are taking care of the environment. With time, we hope that the more trees planted, the more co2 will be offset and hence solving the climatic change issue. Nobody can do it for us. What the international community should do is make more research about bark cloth so that we can have more Mituba trees.

Because of their renewable nature, these trees will stay around for more than 100 years and hence addressing the climatic change issue, which in Africa is primarily due to deforestation.

The entire community is involved; the men and male youth are getting more involved in the craft of making bark cloth, the women and female youth are trying to experiment with it to make products.

This is therefore a new form of employment for the would be idle youth and it reduces  rural urban migration to look for jobs which are not even there.
They all together are involved in the massive planting of the Mituba trees. Almost every household is part of the project.

Why should folk here in the West be interested in this fabric?
(a)  Because the West is more advanced in technology and research methods, they stand a better chance to work out the best possible ways to harness this fabric. Once we have all discovered the best way to use this fabric, the worry of of enough trees to offset Co2 will be lessened.

(b) The West is now looking for new approaches to helping Africa. Some of us believe that Africa should not just be given money but trade with what the West can use.

(c) If the West provides the market for this fabric, it will contribute directly or indirectly towards the millennium development goals.

(d) We need to give confidence to the local people involved in the projects so that the trees can be more protected by them since it will be a source livelihood for them.

We want to have over a million trees planted in the next few years. We want to make forests without having to have forests. This can only be achieved if there is support from folks out there who can provide a market for this renewable fabric.

by Ida Horner
Founder of Ethnic Supplies.

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