Political Space

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

The Great Hall, Okondo’s Village. Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Herbert Lang. 

In 1874, in a book called The Heart of Africa, the first European to visit the Mangbetu peoples of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo described a great meeting hall, the central building of the court of King Mbunza. By the time the Belgians came, Mbunza had died, and the building had disappeared. Herbert Lang, doing research in the area between 1910 and 1915 for the American Museum of Natural History, asked about the building and was told that another one could be built. Lang paid the costs, and construction began. A year later, 500 men had completed this enormous meeting hall (9 meters high, 55 meters long, and 27 meters wide). It was built of bamboo reeds, wooden posts, fiber cords, and rattan strips. Inside it was supported by beautifully carved wooden posts. Although it had no windows, the fiber construction allowed light and air to pass through. The room was used for dances, court cases, meetings, and ceremonies.