Continuing Textile Traditions: Barkcloth of Uganda

April 15, 2023

For more than 700 years, the legacy cloth, lubugo (barkcloth), made from the mutuba tree (ficus natalensis) has been used to clothe Ugandans, bury the dead and mark sacred ceremonies in Uganda. In 2005, it was designated as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO to be preserved and protected. Today, it is inspiring contemporary artists, designers, scientists, scholars and researchers locally, regionally, continentally and globally. It has an exciting future but faces several challenges, such as deforestation and the passing away of the elderly skilled masters without their children continuing the tradition. The Bukomansimbi Organic Tree Farmers Association (BOFTA) and a global group of collaborators are working together to strengthen Uganda’s barkcloth industry and preserve this tradition for future generations. 

From piloting a Tree Adoption Program, to participation in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, to training for younger barkcloth makers, and working with artists and designers to create a system for barkcloth that is traceable to a geo-located tree – join our conversation as this team shares their passion and projects surrounding this unique fabric.

As artists and collaborators, Fred Mutebi and Lesli Robertson have worked together on projects in Uganda and the US since 2008. In 2012, Fred and his brother Stephen Kamya founded BOFTA with the award winning 9th generation barkcloth master Paul Bukenya Katamiira. Today, his sons, including Peter Katamiira, are taking the tradition in new directions with international collaborations and local training programs.

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