Is Bark Cloth the most sustainable fabric?

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.

Bark cloth Hat

The production process of bark cloth is labour intensive as you can see from this video. 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!

Sometime last year I was approached by a group of growers based in Central Uganda who asked me to help raise awareness of this fabric and hopefully bring it into main stream 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 with 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 realised the importance of trees to agriculture. The Mutuba tree is the most friendly agro forestry tree.

So by planting more Mituba (Plural) 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; where by the Men and male youth are getting more involved it 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 on rural urban migration for them 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 arrive on the best possible ways to harness this fabric. Once we have all arrived at the best way to use this fabric, the worry of luck 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 traded 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 with out 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.
I approached The University of Creative Arts in Farnham, St Martins College London and Cavendish College. I was pleasantly surprised when they all agreed to promote the bark cloth amongst their students and this week a Student from Farnham sent me photos of what she has done with the samples I provided and has decided to use the fabric for her project.

In the meantime a South African wine company that has teamed up with the NGO SAVE THE RHINO asked the growers to come up with a bottle carrier that is truly African and this is what has been acheived

Bottle Carrier"]"wine bottle carrier

I had an out of the blue enquiry from a woman based in Holland who was looking to source burial shrouds made from sustainable fabrics as she felt that burying hardwood in the ground is not environmentally friendly and this is the prototype they came up by way of a prototype!
Burial shroud- prototype

"Burial shroud- prototype"]

A member of the group is a bark cloth artist and he was commissioned to make this piece by a Canadian tourist for a cool $400, and trust me folk when I say that is a fortune in the Uganda situation

Bark cloth wall hanging"]

If you are an artist or textile designer and can help develop this fabric into main stream use please get in touch




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