Uganda: Americans mesmerized as Ugandans demonstrate art in barkcloth making

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The world’s largest museum, education and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution in the United States, welcomes Aloyzius Luwemba, a tenth-generation barkcloth maker from Bukomansimbi, Masaka, this year. Founded in 1846, it has 21 museums and is also home to the US National Zoo.

Each year, the two-week Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as part of a cultural exchange program, selects and brings together master craftsmen and other tradition bearers from the United States and around the world. This year Luwemba had the opportunity to showcase the artistry in the making of barkcloth also known locally as lubugo and the rich heritage of eco-cloth.

According to the press release, Luwemba was accompanied by Fulbright scholar and artist Dr. Fred Mutebi, who educates on the particular attributes of lubugo in sustainability, environmental friendliness and green economics, and Lesli Robertson, owner of around the world in 80 fabrics.

Uganda, Kenya and Mongolia share a tent in a section called “Earth Optimism” which is a Smithsonian movement that focuses on changing the narrative from pessimist to hopeful, inspiring action and mobilizing a global community and conservation as a theme.

Visitors and the media were mesmerized when Luwemba demonstrated the process of making barkcloth. First, he hammers and moisturizes the pre-boiled bark, demonstrating how a strip eventually turns into yards of terracotta-colored textile.

The children had the chance to weigh the wooden mallets and try their hand at hammering. They loved the thud it made and giggled as drops of wetness landed on their faces. Others were offered small pieces of barkcloth to practice painting on canvas

Diana Baird N’Diyaye, the festival’s curator and a veteran with more than 42 years in the craft, literally didn’t leave the Ugandan stand all afternoon, carefully observing the fabric being made.

“More important than promoting heritage is preserving the artisans who do the actual production and ensuring that their craftsmanship does not die out,” she told Ugandan Margaret Kafeero, Ugandan Public Diplomacy Officer at the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, DC.

Lucy, a retired US foreign service officer who has worked twice in Uganda and has followed the processes of weaving barkcloth and baskets since 1995, says she is still amazed that the textiles have been stigmatized among the Ugandans themselves as being used only for the dead and for mystical rituals.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival ends on Monday, July 4.

Visitors to Smithsonian Folklife Festival, USA fascinated by Aloyzius Luwemba, a 10th generation #barkcloth maker from Masaka, demonstrate how eco-friendly fabric aka lubugo is made. In Uganda lubugo is stigmatized as a cheap cloth used by the poor to bury their dead pic.twitter.com/20LKp90xrz

— The Observer (@observerug) July 2, 2022

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