Mangbetu Royal Art and Herbert Lang, 1902-1906

by Enid Schildkrout
Museum for African Art (formerly American Museum of Natural History)

Chief Okondo, Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1913. Photo by Herbert Lang. Submitted by Enid Schildkrout.

The Mangbetu court was noted in the nineteenth century for its centralized organization, for the number of the ruler's wives and courtiers, and for its large public buildings.  Strongest in the 1870s, the Mangbetu kingdom had broken up into a number of smaller units by the time the Belgians took over the region. Nevertheless, Chief Okondo pictured here, carried many aspects of the court tradition into the twentieth century. Here, Okondo is seated in front of a row of beautifully painted houses, surrounded by his principal wives and attendants.  Royal objects, including the King's bench, a pipe used for drinking palm wine, and a ceramic wine jar are placed on a mat because they are not allowed to touch the ground. The male attendant standing to Okondo's left is holding a wooden shield, while the women are sitting on carved wooden stools.