Kuba, Luba, Pende, Yaka Peoples:
Kasai Region, Central Africa
The Kuba are among the best known of Africa’s peoples for the splendor of their royal and chieftaincy regalia. As among the Yoruba, Bamum, and Bamikele peoples of West Africa, for the Kuba beads are associated with wealth and social, political, and spiritual authority. In addition to the display of beads and cowries on the royal costumes and those of nobles within the Kuba kingdom, royal drums and other containers were also covered with the exquisite interlace designs found on the garments of the nyim (king) and chiefs. The same complex interlace patterns appear on raffia textiles often referred to as “Kasai velvets,” on the walls of buildings, raffia mats, and in body scarification.
The Luba peoples, to the east of the Kuba, were also famed for their artistry in carving and beading, exemplified in the exhibition by a diviner’s headdress. To the southwest, the Pende, Suku, and Yaka peoples used small drawn beads and simple lozenge and triangle patterns of contrasting colors in the crowns of their chiefs, which are distinguished by the use of lateral horns.
The beads used in Central Africa were drawn beads of a somewhat larger size than those used in West and South African beaded art. Drawn beads were known as paternostri a ferazza, that is, beads that were finished by reheating great quantities of them in a large pan to smooth rough edges. The simplification in finishing the beads developed in response to a rising demand for mass-produced European glass beads, suitable to supplant the Indian glass beads on the African market. Examples of this kind of bead may be seen in the exhibition on the Kuba royal drum, as well as on the Pende and Suku chiefs’ hats.