The Mangbetu are a people of Central Africa, located in the north-eastern part of the Congo. The name Mangbetu refers, strictly speaking, only to the aristocracy of the people, who during the course of the nineteenth century established a number of powerful kingdoms. A more specific use of the term identifies the “Mangbetu” as the people who “govern”. The Mangbetu impressed the first European travelers with their political institutions and their art, in particular their extraordinary ability as builders, potters and sculptors. They also became famous for their alleged cannibalism and for the practice of deforming the heads of newborn babies. The custom of stretching the skull has a specific name, “Lipombo”, and represented the status symbol of the high social class people of this ancient people. As a logical guess, the fact that the wealthier Mangbetu had elongated skulls induced an emulator effect in neighboring populations.
The ideal of beauty for the north-eastern Congolese populations, until the early twentieth century under the merciless domination of Belgium, was a skull magnificently stretched backwards, obtained through the use of constricting bandages from an early age. Lipombo practice began to decline with the westernization of the Congo-Belgian, no longer a rubber factory of the ruthless Leopold II (he renounced his personal possession on November 15, 1908), but under the most democratic guide of Belgium as a nation. During the 50s of the twentieth century, the Lipombo practice was mostly decayed, with the Mangbetu now Westernized by the Europeans. In 1960 the Democratic Republic of the Congo was born, but the Mangbetu did not stretch the skulls of their newborn babies long time.
From the previous period there are the beautiful images of Casimir Zagourski, a polish photographer and adventurer, who lived in Congo since 1924 until the year of his death, in 1944. About Mangbetu and other populations now westernized or disappeared, Zagourski created a beautiful photobook, “Lost Africa“.
The Mangbetu are famous as well as for the practice of cranial deformation also for art and music:
Even the facial appearance was profoundly altered by the elongation of the skull:
Once reached adulthood, the modified skull was highlighted with specific hairstyles and accessories, which made the figure of the woman, naturally according to the Mangbetu rules, impressive and elegant:
Some women prolonged the skull even with hairstyles, in order to look even more slender:
The aesthetics of the Mangbetu were complex and evolved, and also included long and pointed nails:
Already at an early age the girls showed particularly pronounced skulls, which presaged an excellent result of elongation for adulthood: