Skull deformation by the Mangbetus

The Mangbetu are a people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, living in Orientale Province. The majority live in the villages of Rungu, Poko, Watsa, Niangara, and Wamba.

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In 1870, German botanist Georg Schweinfurth was the first European to reach the Mangbetu, who live in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. His exploration account describes them as aristocratic and elegant. Their royal courts, their practice of accentuating the elongation of their heads with elaborate hair styles, their court dances, royal architecture and their arts attracted Western photographers and later film makers in the first half of the 20th century. Profile views of Mangbetu women with the classic coiffure emerged as iconic images and circulated in many media in the West, ranging from postcards, trade cards and postage stamps to sculptures, jewelry, book ends and hood ornaments for cars.

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‘Lipombo’, the custom of skull elongation, which was a status symbol among the Mangbetu ruling classes at the beginning of the century and was later emulated by neighboring groups, evolved into a common ideal of beauty among the peoples of the northeastern Congo. According to schildkrout and Keim, the tradition survived until the middle of this century, when it was outlawed by the Belgian government.

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Without the bandage

Wife of a Mangbetu chief, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Wife of a Mangbetu chief  (photo: Leon Poirier and George Specht, 1925)

Mangbetu woman

Mangbetu woman

Mangbetu woman with her baby

Mangbetu hair style (photo: Casimir Zagourski)

(photo: Lewis Cotlow)

(photo: Lewis Cotlow)

(photo: Attilio Gatti)

(photo: Attilio Gatti)

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