Bushoong women wear a special overskirt made of appliquéd woven raffia cloth. Wrapped around the waist and worn with cowrie-embroidered belts over a longer ceremonial skirt, the overskirt (which can measure more than five yards or four and a half meters long) has a cut-pile raffia border edged with an encased flexible reed (fig. 53). It is important to note that cowrie shells and woven raffia cloth were used as currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. Once an indicator of status and rank, the skirts, which were produced in stages by male weavers and female embroiderers, were expensive to obtain and were owned only by aristocratic women, who wore them on special occasions (fig. 54).
This cloth is appliquéd with patches made of imported cotton ticking, which was used in Western countries to cover mattresses.(39) The imported cloth's blue-and-white pattern was probably deemed attractive and appropriate because Kuba beadwork designs were formed with blue and white beads. An early visitor to Kuba country noted the patches were both for ornament and to cover holes,(40) some of which were created when the raffia cloth was pounded to make it supple. The patches were named according to their shapes. For example, the L or comma shape is called shina mboa, meaning "the tail of a dog," and a circle is idingadinga.(41)
39. n.p., plate 24.
A similar appliqué at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, has patches of imported prints with a floral motif.
40. Hultgren, Mary Lou, and Jeanne Zeidler. A Taste for the Beautiful: Zairian Art from the Hampton University Museum. Hampton, Va.: University Museum, 1993.
The Presbyterian missionary William H. Sheppard, an African American, and his party were the first foreigners to enter the Bushoong royal court in 1890. The paramount king of the Kuba peoples came from
the Bushoong group. During the twenty years Sheppard lived among the Kuba, he amassed a collection of objects that was deposited at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, Virginia.
Darish, in Phillips, Tom, ed. Africa: The Art of a Continent. London: Royal Academy of Arts; Munich: Prestel, 1995. p. 276, cat. no. 4.48b.
Another early example collected by Emil Torday on the Torday Congo Expedition, 1907 to 1909, was deposited at the British Museum.
Darish, in Weiner, Annette B., and Jane Schneider, eds. Cloth and Human Experience. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989. pp. 117-140.