Olubugo is the traditional name for the barkcloth craft of the Baganda people in southern Uganda. Processed bark clothes are used for making toga, curtains, mosquito screens, wallets, bags, bedding, storage wares, and slippers, amongst others.
The traditional heritage cloth is worn at cultural gatherings, coronations, healing and vitality ceremonies, and funerals.
Origin of the Barkcloth
As one of the oldest textiles in history, the ancient craft originated among the Ngonge clan of the Buganda kingdom with “Kaboggoza” as the chief craftsman.
During the earliest times of its origin, the hereditary chief craftsman makes bark clothes for royal Baganda families and other community members.
Techniques for Making Olubugo
The procedures for manufacturing Olubugo are unique because the methods are quite prehistoric even before the invention of weaving.
The inner bark of the Mutuba tree used for producing the barkcloth is usually harvested during the rainy season. It is processed into an even terracotta color with a soft fine texture by beating with wooden mallets. These techniques are carried out in an open shed to prevent the inner bark from drying out immediately.
The barkcloth produced for kings and chiefs is dyed black and or white to demarcate them from the terracotta color worn by normal people. The cloth is worn like a toga by both men and women. Women also wear a sash made from the same barkcloth around their waist.
The Expansion of Barkcloth Production
Over time, the production of barkcloth spread across workshops to almost every village in the Buganda kingdom. Its production declined till it eventually faded out in the nineteenth century with the introduction of cotton cloths by Arab caravan traders. Hence, the use of bark cloth was limited to cultural and spiritual functions.
Because of its historical origins, the barkcloth still serves as a marker for various social and cultural traditions among the Baganda community. Recently, the production of barkcloth has been encouraged to foster the traditions and cultural heritage of the Buganda kingdom.
Also, in 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the making of the Ugandan barkcloth “A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” This was to acknowledge the significance of barkcloth production as part of the Buganda cultural identity.
Below are some pictures of the traditional Olubugo clothes in Uganda.
Pictures of Olubugo Barkcloth in Uganda
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