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The indigenous name for barkcloth is olubugo. It is made from the inner bark of the mutuba tree (Ficus Natalensis).
In 2005, UNESCO recognized it as ”the third proclamation of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. The process of making it predates the invention of weaving, according to UNESCO.
It is the perfect example of an environmentally friendly renewable material.
The craft of barkcloth making is estimated to span back some 700 years; inventend during the reign of Kabaka Kimera who ruled between 1275 and 1335. Lule Ssonko, an avid hunter inadvertently discovered the craft when he was looking for materials to make traps for his hunting. He came across the mutuba tree (scientific name : Ficus natalensis) from which he got the bark which he started beating and it kept stretching.
As a serious researcher, he started doing it with some care. The more he beat it, the more it stretched and developed into a reasonable size. News of this discovery reached the Kabaka, the king of Buganda, who then summoned Ssonko and encouraged him to continue with the research and make more for clothing his subjects. Barkcloth later on became a trade item between the neighboring Kingdoms; exchanged for salt, cows, hoes, etc. During this period the environment was greatly nurtured by the massive planting of mutuba trees in Buganda which led to economic prosperity.
The demonization of barkcloth by Christianity and Islam and the introduction of other fabrics by Arab traders and colonialists caused the barkcloth trade to deteriorate, and so was the production. The mutuba trees continued to serve the agro-purpose and some barkcloth was produced for particular Buganda cultural rituals.
In 2005, UNESCO named Ugandan barkcloth a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity; hence sparking new conversation about its place in both contemporary Ugandan culture and the global research, design and manufacturing market. By buying and using barkcloth you are nurturing the global environment. The mutuba tree is renewable and lasts for over 100 years.
Barkcloth is José Hendo’s African fabric of choice. It is from her country of origin and, having worked with it for more than 15 years, she still feels there is so much more that it has to give. It is a perfect ambassador for sustainability because its harvesting does not destroy the tree which can still be harvested for years.
The mutuba tree is an important part of the ecosystem and the community;
– The fodder is used for animals feed
– Soil enrichment
– Climate change (counteracts)
– Making barkcloth
By using barkcloth we are creating sustainable jobs in Uganda. It is important that more Mutuba trees are planted to keep this tradition going. José Hendo has connected with one of the Barkcloth making communities in Uganda BOFTA (Bukomansimbi Organic Farmers Tree Association) where she has adopted a tree and planted the 1st in the 1 million tree planting campaign.
CNN was there to capture this moment. Watch the clip here.
José Hendo tries to be innovative with the way she works with barkcloth from season to season by including it in all her collections and keeping up the momentum to work alongside conventional materials. She applies clever cutting and pattern manipulation to bring the best out of barkcloth using its natural qualities to their advantage.
Resonance: colouring it with organic dyes was the first step in the creative challenge of making barkcloth work as a mainstream fabric. Break the rules, break out of convention.
Barkcloth is perfect for creating wearable art – timelessness