The process of making Barkcloth

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The Ancient Craft of Barkcloth in Uganda

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Mugalula Barkcloth Account By Mugalula-Mukiibi of Uganda

Uganda is one of the few privileged Nations that have the Ancient Craft of Barkcloth. A few other countries include Indonesia, Brazil, the Hawaii Islands and Cameroon. Barkcloth is fairly distributed in these countries and undoubtedly has reached its highest development because weaving was unknown.

The National cloth in Buganda was Barkcloth, Olubugo in Luganda. The tree from which the bark was obtained was extensively cultivated and was, with the exception of the plantain tree, the most valuable of all trees. View some Pictures on Barkcloth

It is difficult to ascertain exactly how the people learnt the art of making Barkcloth and what period the industry became a common property of the Baganda. Some legends tell us that the art of making Barkcloth was invented by a man called Wamala during the reign of Kabaka Kimera. He came across the Barkcloth tree, OMUTUBA, in Luganda, while on a hunting expedition in the forest. The other legend tells us that Kabaka Kintu brought the Barkcloth tree as well as the people skilled in making the Barkcloth with him from "Heaven" – Ggulu.

Anyway, in Buganda Kingdom there is a larger variety of Barkcloth, than in any of the surrounding districts. It is said that Kabaka Ssemakookiro enforced his people (subjects) to go about clothed. Prior to his reign the people wore no clothes but small skins; after the invention, the men wore Barkcloth over the shoulders, and the women around the waists; and he fined them if they neglected to do so. At one time there were special kinds of trees from which Royal Barkcloth was made. There were also men whose sole duty was to keep the royal court supplied with Barkcloth. But the art of Barkcloth making was common property and even a humbler peasant had his own trees, so that nothing but idleness prevented him from being well dressed.

There are many kinds of trees belonging to one fig family botanically known as Ficus Nantalesis. The names of some cheap kinds are Namweruka, Ntojjo, Mpolaembuzi, Nnanda, Naalima, and these grow in Ggomba county. Ntaweebwa, Kyoya, Nkazebuka, Kaliba, Nsalala, and Senkusu, these grow in Mawokota county. Ndwagi, Nakibira, Lwewunzika, Kiriba, Nnyunga and Sekyeru – these are grown in Kyaggwe county or district. Senkizimbyeko, Kalegeya, Nalugoya, Kampindi, Nakawombe, Sejjere – these grow in Bulemeezi county or district. Kampindi, Nankago, Ntayungwa, Ssango, Lwaddungu, Nalunnyo, Nserere – these grow in Buddu county or district. And the best Barkcloth comes from Ssango in Buddu county.

The tree grows easily, infact a tree touching a moist ground seldom fails to grow. If left, the tree grows to an enormous size, being often as much as 3 metres high – the trunk. They need, however, a sheltered place because the roots do not strive down deeply, as gales of wind uproot them. The fruit is not used by people, though birds, and some kind of birds, feed on it. The tree is propagated by taking branches one metre long, and merely planting them a few inches deep into the ground. In four years the trees are grown up and in the fifth year they are ready to yield the first Barkcloth. It was the man who had to plant and cultivate the Barkcloth trees, and no woman cared to live with a man who did not provide her with a garden and himself with some Barkcloth trees which would supply the family needs.

When the tree is fully grown, an incision is made around the tree from near the ground, and another near to where the branches folk out. Also a longitudinal incision from the top to the bottom; the cuts being deep enough to go through the bark to the wood of the tree. The bark is then cased off the stem by working a knife blade under it, and peeling it off. After the bark has been removed, a careful man smears the trunk with cowdung and wraps it round with banana leaves, to keep it safe from being injured; but others leave it to heel off itself. In a short time a second bark forms and this is of better quality than the first, while the third and the fourth are the best barks which the tree yields. The tree does not suffer by its bark being removed, on the contrary it can yield between 10-50 barks.

The bark, after removal, is scrapped on the outer side and left until the morning, when it is again scrapped both inside and outside and taken to a place where it is beaten, called EKKOMAGIRO in Luganda. Ekkomagiro is a little more that a shelter from the sun or rain. On the floor, a log, called OMUKOMAGO, about two metres long is sunk, of which the upper is the base to make a fairly smooth surface about 15cm wide and extending the whole length of the log. If a barkcloth maker, a MUKOMAZI, can secure the assistance of a friend, the two work together on the barkcloth. The corrugated wooden mallets used are called ENSAAMO. They are shaped like those of a stone masion but are round and have grooves running around them. A Mukomazi has a set of them, with different width between the grooves. The first has coarse grooves, the second finer and the third very fine grooves.

A piece of bark, the strip, is first soaked in water then beaten on the smooth surface of the log and spreads out as it becomes thin. Again, at the same time, it gains a firmer texture, and the resulting materials are sewn together with exceeding neatness to become the size of large shawls – large enough to be made into voluminous curtains for cutting off a room or forming partitions in traditional homes. Barkcloth intended for use on bed is left much thicker than those intended for wearing. A Mukomazi is an expert at filling in places where there are flaws in the cloth; he cuts out bad pieces and neatly and aesthetically stitches them with plantain fibre or any other ideal material.

Different barkcloth trees yield different textures and qualities as well as different colours. The common barkcloth when beaten and dried is light brown, but the better sort, when exposed and dried assumes a light brown terra-cotta tint.

The Barkcloth trees do not grow freely in any part or district except in Ssango – in Buddu district, Masaka, even the best quality comes from there.

Peasants commonly wore the light brown Barkcloth, but they had dark ones of finer quality for use when paying visits on festival occasions. The latter is known as KIMOTE type. It was considered a matter of etiquette that all princesses and women about the Kabaka's court should wear nothing but barkcloth. For the Kabaka a species of Barkcloth tree was grown, which gave a white Barkcloth. This was used at the coronation ceremony and seldom at other times. Until trade with the Arabs became an established thing in the country about a century ago, members of the upper classes wore nothing but Barkcloth, and even at the present day, the use of this cloth is a must of certain purposes and on certain occasions.

Barkcloth, from what has been mentioned above, is an age old Buganda Craft, which has for very many centuries occupied a unique position in society. Apart from animal skin, the Baganda depend largely on Barkcloth for their clothing, bedding, burial of the dead, payment for the rent of the land and barter trade.

The position that Barkcloth occupies in Uganda is such that it has survived the test of modern science and technology. However, it should be appreciated that because of the fierce competition that has been brought about by the industrial textile products, this traditional cloth MUST BE ADAPTED and reconditioned to match with modern times.

THUS my dedicated endeavours to utilise Barkcloth for the innovative production of aesthetic, creative, visual realities – WORKS OF ART – all unique to me – for the appreciable consumption of Humankind.

View Barkcloth Prints for Sale


With that background of the Baganda, comprised in The Story of Kintu, cum the Origin of Buganda, The Clans and Totems of the Baganda and The Ancient Craft of Backcloth in Uganda, I wish to humbly take pleasure in traditionally presenting myself to you all by narrating my pedigre - OKULANYA - thereby illustrating the natural pride a Muganda has about his or her tribe, history, ancestry and traditions in general.

I am Mugalula Mukiibi Augustine Saalongo(Father of Twins), a professional artist and teacher, of the Lugave (Pangolin) clan, Akabbiro Maleere (Sub-clan), son of Mukiibi Enoka who was a professional teacher and farmer, and now resting at Kira, Kito, in Kyaddondo county; grandson of Alirwana Yonasaani, great grandson of Mugalula, and great great grandson of Nakatanza, all the last three resting at Mateme, Bukunja in Kyagwe county; they trace their ancestry to OWESSIGA (Sub-clan-head), Namugwanga of Bubwa clan estate in Kyagwe county. The entire clan's ancestor being titled Ndugwa of Katende clan estate in Mawokota county.

They were Kabaka's Artisans and excelled in Barkcloth manufacturing and hunting. Not mentioning other traditional royal duties to the throne and appointment to chieftainacy. The clan's drumbeat (omubala) is;

"Lwa Ndugwa Lwa Katende…….." My dear good mother Erina Namagudu Nakkazi, resting at Kira, Kito in Kyaddondo county, is of the Mmamba (Lung-fish) clan and daughter of Kiwanuka Musajjaawaza Zekia, resting at Kiryabirokwa in Gomba county. Her mother my grandmother is Jjaja Yatuwa Poola, resting at Kira, Kito, Makerere in Kyadondo county.

My dear wife is Nabitalo Naalongo (Mother of twins) Margaret of Namungoona (Crow) clan, daughter of Bwenza Watula Bulasio resting at Mpererwe in Kyaddondo county, and granddaughter of Gwavvu Musoke Petero resting at Kampaama, Gomba county. Her mother is of Njovu (Elephant) clan and she rests at Mpererwe in Kyaddondo county.

Iam a Muganda, Muzzukulu wa Nnambi. And being a Muganda Proper (Wawu) I originate from the original subjects of Kabaka Kintu, the first Kabaka of Buganda; I was born during reign of Kabaka Muteesa II the father of the present Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi II - both kings being celebrated patrons to my Art .

"Wangaala Ssabasajja" "Long live Your Majesty"


At this juncture I wish to take this opportunity to gratefully thank you for your patronage to my Art and wish you, ALL, continued partaking of my creative endeavours, which eventually, with time, in culmination, embrace, simultaneously, Art-motifs unique to me, and the Barkcloth material unique to Buganda - MUGALULA - ORIGINAL GRAPHICS - Mugalula Serigraphy on Barkcloth

As my dear ancestors proudly excelled in perfecting the craft of Barkcloth making in the service of Kabaka, his subjects and for internal and external barter trade, I, likewise feel very proud and honoured in utilising that perfected Barkcloth to, during the reigns of Kabaka Mutesa II and Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi II, present my Art-motifs - simultaneously barkcloth and Mugalula Arts - to the entire Humankind for appreciable perusal and collection.

Indeed consolidating my mission of "To through my Art, modestly contribute to the Interaction of Humankind."

Sequentially, " My Art journey to the Cyber World"