Migration of Beadmaking and Beadwork Throughout Africa

Kuba King Kot a-Mbweeky III (who has ruled from 1969-present) wearing bwaantshy, the most elaborate of all royal ceremonial costumes, during a display for photgrapher and filmmaker Eliot Elisofon in early 1970
Mushenge, Congo
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art

This extravagant royal costume, weighing almost 185 pounds, consists of a tunic embroidered with beads and cowrie shells; several heavy, beaded belts and hip ornaments; necklaces and bracelets; and an ornate headdress with an attached beaded beard. Bead-embroidered gloves and shoes cover the ruler's hands and feet. Sitting solemnly on a dais next to beaded royal drums (pelambish), the king seems transformed into a work of art. He embodies wealth, power, beauty, and the Kuba aesthetic preference for accumulation and abundant design. Each king commissions this type of costume after his enthronement and is buried in it when he dies.