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Ugandan Bark Cloth, Where Does It Come From

Ficus Natalensis or the Mutuba Tree holds a very high cultural significance to the nation and people of Uganda. When harvested, its bark is handcrafted by skilled artisans into a material called barkcloth, or Olubugo as it is known to the people of Uganda. Prior to the arrival of the Arabic cloth in the nineteenth century barkcloth was the traditional form of dress and to this day, is still worn by Buganda kings for official functions. Religious Traditionalists also use it in their spiritual practices.

Bark Cloth is processed from the inner bark of the Mutuba tree. The bark is harvested during the wet season, and can be harvested continuously for over 40 years without causing harm to the tree. Through a long and strenuous process, the bark is beaten with wooden mallets till it possesses a soft and fine texture. The shade of the barkcloth is determined by the level of exposure to sunlight, the more exposure to the sun the darker the cloth. In 2005 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Uganda’s barkcloth “a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. This honor and recognition of indigenous textile production skills of Ugandan artisans raised the profile of bark cloth.

In addition to its use in the creation of traditional dress the tree itself has applications in the home gardens of the Ugandan people. The tree is planted to be a protector of cash crops from the elements of the East African climate. Farmers will often grow bananas, the nation’s main food crop, and coffee, the main crop exported for cash, the Mutuba tree serves as a wind break and aids in the retention of ground water.

Now, Afri-Root Collective would like to add one more attribute to the Mutuba Tree—the ability to empower and uplift women in East Africa. East Africa has not been a place where all women are blessed to grow up with a great amount of opportunity. Our goal at Afri-Root Collective is to help create that opportunity. We believe that when you combine the renewable resource of the Mutuba Tree and the incredible handcraftsmanship possessed by the women we are working with, we can build that opportunity for present and future generations.

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