Kuba cloths were a form of money typical of Congo. However the economic and social importance of these cloths was not restricted to their use as a means of payment. They could be used in clothing, in various kinds of offerings and rewards, as well as in dowries.
Southwest Congo – Kuba people
Did you know that…
The macuta, a coin introduced in Angola in 1761, got its name from a local unit of account made of 10 libongos?
In the 17th century the regions of Guinea, the Congo, and Angola were still living in pre-monetary regimes in which the role of coinage was played by a range of commodity monies, among which were shells, metals, salt, and cloth of both African and European manufacture.
The locally produced textiles included Kuba or Shoowa cloth, pieces made of raffia – a palm fibre – carefully woven in squares and decorated with geometric patterns. Kuba cloths were highly appreciated by several ethnic groups in the Congo and environs, who used them as decorative attire and for social mediation in a number of contexts: as gifts from local chieftains, in festivals and ceremonies, and to pay dowries, compensations, fines, and tributes.
They were apparently woven by all members of the community. Sometimes they were sewn together to make larger pieces, and were occasionally further embellished with cowrie shells, which were also used as money. Beginning in the 19th century cowries gradually displaced the Kuba cloths as a means of payment.
In 17th-century Angola similar cloths circulated, known as libongos or ‘straw money’. These were commonly used in local transactions and payments, and to clothe slaves exported to Brazil. Libongos were also used for paying soldiers stationed in Luanda, in the proportion of one quarter of their wage. This practice came to an end only with the introduction of copper coinage, in 1694.