Mangbetu Female Vessel Figure. Origin: Both Congo Republics (see ethnographical notes below) Size: 28 x 10 x 8.5 cm, Medium: Terra Cotta
In the middle of the 18th century the Mangbetu people left the Sudan, they re-located their kingdom in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their social structure is not dissimilar to other Zairian forest-based tribes where the men hunt and fish, while the women are left to cultivate the fields. Yams, manioc and plantains are the primary crops, and some cattle farming is done.
Unlike other Sudanic peoples, however, among the Mangbetu only the men are permitted to do the milking. Livestock is seen as a symbol of wealth and is often exchanged for bride prices. Ultimate authority over the 40,000 Mangbetu rests with a king whose sons govern the various provinces, which are divided into districts and villages. Mangbetu art, famous for its realism, is a court art.Wooden figures are believed to be ancestral portraits. It was developed particularly in terms of everyday objects under the impetus of the clan chiefs who wanted to show off their power and wealth.
Royal celebrations, which took place in large vaulted sheds, were opportunities for exhibiting objects of luxury and refinement: pipes, palm wine jars featuring sculpted figures and heads, tree-bark boxes with covers decorated with heads, harps and trumpets played by wandering musicians, ornamental horns in worked ivory. Decorated thrones and knives were also part of the royal regalia. The Mangbetu tradition of compressing an infant's head with raffia in order to obtain an elongated skull is apparent in the statues. The elongation is further enhanced by a high coiffure finishing in a cup-like finial.