Raffia and Colonialism


Due to geographical isolation, the Kuba people were not impacted by colonialism until much later in comparison to many other parts of Africa. Colonization of the Kuba Kingdom began in the late nineteenth century after its initial “discovery” by an American presbyterian explorer named William Sheppard. This sparked a mass process of Westernization and integrative practices.

Post-colonization, the artistic processes associated with the production of raffia textile drastically changed. The sacred nature of production and the cultural roles associated with it were essentially abandoned in favor of mass production processes that curated to Western consumption and fetishization. One of the primary consequences of colonialism in relation to raffia was the mass commodification of the textile that changed production methods and cultural associations. Western practices interceded on the time-sensitivity of raffia production. Colonialism also introduced tourist-culture and revenue, much of which was based in raffia as it gained traction as a global commodity valued for aesthetics and mystic. Exploitation colonialism set new standards of production that reflected the industrialization of Western societies. This caused a mass depletion of natural resources that further necessitated a process of integration and dependency.

Indirect rule and political dominance associated with colonialism also removed the significance of the textile as a symbol of status and respect. By forcing the position of the textile into one based in commodification combined with loss of power by the king, the raffia was systematically stripped of meaning.