08 May 2012

Mbuti bark cloth

The textiles show at Raven Row included this display of Mbuti bark cloth from the Congo. Here are some details -

Men prepare the cloth by pounding bark, and women paint it. It is used to wrap infants at birth and to form a tunnel through which boys crawl to be 'reborn' at puberty as an initiation rite.

I've long believed that the marks are a sort of 'mapping' but this source puts a different slant on them - "The paintings are evidence of the Mbuti perception of the forest as the spiritual and symbolic core of their culture. The artists combine a variety of biomorphic motifs (e.g. butterflies, birds, leopard spots) with geometric patterns that give an impression of motion, sound and shape within the forest landscape: light filtered through trees, buzzing insects, ant trails, tangled vines. Cross-hatched squares, perhaps representing the texture of reptilian skin, are shorthand for turtles, crocodiles or snakes."

Further: "Visual “silences” or voids in the patterns are especially valued, consistent with Mbuti concepts of sound and silence. Silence in Mbuti thought does not imply lack of sound – for the forest is always “talking” – but quiet (ekimi), the absence of noise. Noise (akami) is conflict. Sound has spiritual and magical properties. It is integral to the Mbuti world, not only as an acoustic backdrop, but as a means of heightened communication with other people and with the forest itself."

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