Mangbetu Royal Art and Herbert Lang, 1902-1906

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

Queen Nenzima, Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Herbert Lang. Submitted by Enid Schildkrout.

Mangbetu rulers were at the center of vast networks of social relationships. The administration of the kingdom was based on the model of the family. Kings—who were referred to as chiefs after the Belgians took control of the area—received wives from many of their subjects and sent their sons to govern outlying villages. Women at court represented the subjects in their home villages and through them ordinary people had access to the rulers. Some royal women achieved great power in their own right. Nenzima, a younger sister of the nineteenth-century ruler, Mbunza, was the wife of Okondo and was reported to be the most powerful person in the court in the first decade of the 20th century.