Printer Friendly Version

Kuba Yet Belt

Dance your eyes around this full circle of objects. Jump along zigzag lines and sail around curves. Skip from bright rows of beads and shells to the brown backs of giant seashells. Even laid out flat in the quiet of a museum, the twenty-three pendants hanging from this belt make a lively collection of patterns and materials.

Now imagine the belt around the waist of a king in full regalia, pendants swaying and clinking with his every step. For the Kuba people of central Africa, each shape and pattern proclaimed a message about the power of the Kuba king.

Kuba people, Democratic Republic of Congo
Yet Belt, 20th century
Leather, cotton, shells, glass beads, brass, twine, and pigments
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Elaborate costumes reinforced the order of Kuba society.
Precious materials are prized for both value and appearance.
Patterns have particular names and meanings in Kuba life.

Patterns All Around: Kuba artists are famous for applying patterns to all kinds of objects. Look around you and make a list of all the objects and surfaces you see that have patterns on them. What else could be decorated with a pattern that is not already? What different materials could be used?  

Variations on a Theme: Use the zoom feature to explore the patterns on the yet belt. Choose a pattern from the belt and map it on a piece of graph paper. What is the smallest unit of the pattern? Then invent variations of the pattern by producing it in different colors, reversing the design, or repeating it across a larger area. Make up names for your new patterns based on what they remind you of.  

The Weight of Responsibility: The heavy pendants of a yet belt are symbols of the king’s powers and responsibilities. Design a charm bracelet for an American leader (teacher, president, or general, for example) bearing symbols of his or her role as a leader. What does each symbol stand for?  

Imitation Objects: The pendants on a yet belt are often decorative imitations of other objects, like seashells, ram’s heads, or musical instruments. (Such ornaments are known as skeuomorphs.) Choose an object and make a three-dimensional replica of it using one or two different materials for decorative effect (consider using beads, buttons, beans, popcorn kernels, or bottle caps).  

Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.

Cornet, Joseph. Art Royal Kuba. Milan: Grafica Sipiel Milano, 1982. (in French)

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art. (Browse Kuba photographs at  

January 2006