The Kuba live in present-day Congo (recently, Zaire). In the midst of
vast upheavals in the country, past and present, the patterns in their textiles
are among the most complex in the world. The Kuba also use analogies drawn
from weaving to explain how both individual identity and the universe itself
was created. Analogies abound that are useful for thinking about the complexities
of the World Wide Web: is it really very new, or very old? Read through
the creation stories below (just a few paragraphs), then check out the web/weaving/knot
analogies and the examples of Kuba textiles and other forms of pattern-making.
The very new is knotted with the very old.
In the beginning, MBoom the Sky Father lit up the dark, empty space of
the universe by spewing out the sun, moon, and stars. [His name is pronouced
"mmmBoom." To my ears this sounds like the Big Bang itself (and
its echoing aftermath), festive and explosive at once.] With the earth-mother
MBoom created a son, NGaan, with whom he eternally quarrels. Next MBoom
vomited nine animals: four of his own firey nature and four of his son's
watery nature: these were the original beings of the heaven and earth. The
ninth animal was the lightning animal, which has a mix of both the father's
and the son's nature. The eight primeval animals in turn vomited others,
which vomited still more in turn, and so all the world's animals, including
humans, were formed.
These stories of Mboom may also stand in here as a fit model for the Web itself, its mbooming growth by leaps and bounds (and beyond bounds). Mboom's written sign stresses how a pattern is first created through multiplication (the lines in columns on the left, below) and then recreated and renewed through contrapuntal patterns and tensions (the pattern on the right, below). Both patterns together make for Mboom's sign:
The next event was the birth of Woot, a supernatural being who lives
among humans, created through the union of the sky-god and the earth-mother.
Woot names each human being, and also names all the animals and the plants.
He has nine sons, who with their father teach humans the difference between
nature and culture, thus teaching them that they are human. While most of
Woot's sons are clearing the land and planting, the two youngest ones busy
themselves inventing the idea of pointed things and the art of sharpening.
The inventor of pointed things then wounds the sharpener, thus introducing
evil and death into the world.
Woot's mother also aids in the creation of culture by giving to human beings the art of mat weaving. Unlike the two-part patterns shaped like an L or a V, or the three-part pattern shaped like a Y, all of which are found in nature, the two-part pattern of a X belongs to the realm of culture, not nature; it is based on an idea. Crossing and interlace thus become the primary elements in mat-weaving and other cultural arts. Kuba designs display complex patterns using L, V, Y, and X forms to symbolize the symbiotic interaction of nature and culture.
Crossing patterns define human identity, and almost infinite variations
on these patterns in Kuba design testify to the richness of human difference.
"Imbol" is a name given to a pattern created when a line crosses
itself twice and then returns upon itself, creating a self-contained knot.
The words "woot" and "imbol" are used to refer to these
textile patterns, to gender itself (as in the phrase, "what sex [imbol]
is your child?"), and to personality type, suggesting that in Kuba
culture identity is understood to be a complex form of special knotting.
Cultural knowledge is understood to be a form of knotting, of crossing and
return, as well.
Some Kuba textiles have groups of such imbol and woot figures variously
linked and interlocked as if they were constructing a complete mega-pattern
summing up the entire array of possible crossing or interlace patterns.
Interspersed within these overall imbol or woot patterns li together--that
is, within the many inner compartments created by the linked patterns in
the textiles--are an almost infinite array of other patterns, some knotted
and some open. This creates effects of flickering and movement and infinite
levels, of worlds created within worlds within other worlds. It also suggests
how interlaced all individual patterns are within the larger cultural patterns
that inform them and create the individual spaces within which they can
--adapted from Georges Meurant, Shoowa Design: African Textiles from the Kingdom of Kuba. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.