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Kuba Yet Belt

The Kuba kingdom of central Africa is now part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kuba Nyim (King) Kot a Mbweeky III in state dress with royal drum in Mushenge, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). (Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1971. Image no. EEPA 2139. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.)

The ram’s head and double gong on these pendants are both royal symbols.

key idea
Elaborate costumes reinforced the order of Kuba society.

The Kuba (KOO-bah) kingdom, located in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, was a place of great wealth in the late 1800s. Under the king, the nobility competed for rank and status. Richly ornamented clothing allowed them to show off their position, power, and wealth. Styles from that time are still worn on ceremonial occasions today.

Rules controlled who could wear what. The grandest costumes were for the king and his family. Only royalty could wear this type of belt, a yet belt heavy with dangling pendants. The pendants are shaped like various objects associated with royalty. For example, this belt has two pendants in the form of a ram’s head, a symbol of the king. Two other pendants resemble a double bell, an instrument used at court.

A belt like this was just one part of the royal regalia. A king’s complete outfit—including skirts, belts, hats, collars, necklaces, bracelets, armbands, anklets, and other ornaments—could weigh up to 185 pounds. He needed the help of assistants just to move. The heavy costume, with its precious shells and beads, symbolized the ruler’s privilege as king and also the burden of his responsibilities.

A king continued to add to his costume throughout his reign. Most yet belts have twenty or thirty pendants on them. One king had eighty pendants on one of his yet belts by the end of his rule.

This belt includes enormous natural shells and a beaded pendant in the shape of a shell.
January 2006