Image: Ugandan bark cloth with painted detail.
Ugandan bark cloth, Lubugo, is a complex and unique material. It is the main cultural product of the Buganda people, the largest tribe in Uganda, who have been creating the cloth from trees for hundreds of years. Although its name translates to ‘funeral cloth’ or ‘shroud’, lubugo is not only used for burying the dead: it is also used in ceremonies; as clothing, bedding, window screens, and around the home; and has since evolved to signify the identity of the Buganda.
Image: Detail of the bark cloth production process. The soaked bark is beaten for several hours with nsammo.
In approximately three centuries the process of making bark cloth has changed very little. The lubugo tree has its outer layer of bark stripped off, revealing an inner, moist bark that is then removed with a skillful vertical cut down the length of the trunk. The bark is then lightly burnt, cleaned and soaked in water, and then beaten over several hours and days with nsammo — specially designed grooved mallets — to flatten the bark into a supple cloth that will be almost four times as wide as the original narrow strip of bark. Once it has been spread out to dry, it develops its signature rust colour that varies from piece to piece, with each displaying a unique, unpredictable character and distress from the pounding process. It is a sustainable commodity —the trees survive the annual stripping and re-grow their bark for the next season’s harvest —and many Ugandan artists and designers use it in their contemporary practice, finding freedom in the material which propels artistic exploration and innovation while maintaining a symbolic significance to their cultural identity.
Image: Detail of bark cloth with appliquéd, dyed bark cloth
On Saturday 10 & Sunday 11 April, textile consultant Lesli Robertson will be hosting a workshop for Selvedge about the creative possibilities of natural and clay-dyed bark cloth. Working on bark cloth sourced from ninth-generation craftsmen at Bukomansimbi Organic Tree Farmers Association in Uganda, Lesli will lead participants through several creative projects to explore the potential of this material, including print, stitch, and deconstruction techniques. The workshop is open to any and all abilities.
To find out more about this workshop, visit the event page: Ugandan Barkcloth with Lesli Robertson