Mbole people

Regions with significant populations
Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo 100,000
Mbole language

The Mbole people are an ethnic group of about 100,000 people as of 1971 living in the Orientale Province, southwest of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[1]


The Mbole language belongs to the Mongo group of Bantu languages.[2] The Mbole culture is close to that of the Mongo people and related to those of the Yela and Pere peoples.[3] They live in the equatorial forest on both sides of the Lomami River.[4] They once lived to the north of the Congo River. They crossed this river upstream from the point where the Lomami joins the Congo, near present-day Basoko, and then moved south to their present location. They split into five smaller groups in the 18th century due to pressure from the Bombesa people.[3]

During the colonial era of the Belgian Congo, the Mbole were active in attacking the colonial factories in Lokilo. They called the Belgians atama-atama, or slave traders, and made no distinction between the Belgians and the earlier Arab slave traders.[5] The Lomami Company forced the Mbole to collect large amounts of rubber. They vividly described their view of the effect of this work with the phrase wando wo limolo, meaning "tax-caused loss of weight".[6]

Economy and organization

The Mbole women grow manioc, bananas and rice and raise ducks, chickens and goats. The men hunt or trap game, and use nets to catch fish in the river. Local weavers and blacksmiths provide most of artifacts needed for daily life.[3] Both men and women practice weaving, men making fish traps and wall and roof mats, and women making sleeping mats, small rectangular mats and baskets.[4]

Men typically move to their wife's village on marriage. Villages are headed by a chief who has reached a senior position in the Lilwa society, which educates young men and some women and conducts initiation ceremonies. A group of villages may elect an area chief to represent them in a matter of shared concern, but villages are otherwise autonomous.[3]


The Lilwa society teaches both morality and religion. Women and elders, both living and dead, are to be respected. Theft, adultery and lying are prohibited. A person who breaks the law is subject to public reprimand and may suffer further punishment. In the most severe cases the wrong-doer is hung and buried in an unmarked grave. Mbole wooden carvings often represent these individuals with sunken faces, concave torsos and ropes around their necks.[3] One example of a crime punishable by death is that of revealing the secrets of initiation.[7] The image serves as an example of what will happen to the person who breaks the laws.[8]

The Lilwa society has four levels. The highest are the Isoya, the religious leaders. The wives of the Isoya are usually initiated into the Lilwa society and wield considerable power. When an Isoya dies he is buried in a tree and his house is left empty as a reminder that he is still present in the community. The Mbole make wooden figures that are used in healing ceremonies or that represent ancestors. They also make elaborate mats, and make brass bracelets of great beauty.[3]


  1. "Mbole". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2011-10-08.
  2. James Stuart Olson (1996). "Mbole". The peoples of Africa: an ethnohistorical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 384. ISBN 0-313-27918-7.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Mbole Information". The University of Iowa. 3 November 1998. Retrieved 2011-10-08.
  4. 1 2 Paulus Gerdes (2008). "Twill plaited mats from the Mbole - Mongo in Northeast Congo". African Basketry: A Gallery of Twill-Plaited Designs and Patterns. Lulu.com. p. 45. ISBN 1-4357-2625-1.
  5. Dave Renton; David Seddon; Leo Zeilig (2007). The Congo: plunder and resistance. Zed Books. p. 63. ISBN 1-84277-485-9.
  6. Osumaka Likaka (2009). Naming colonialism: history and collective memory in the Congo, 1870-1960. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-299-23364-2.
  7. "Key Moments in Life: Initiation 4". The University of Iowa. January 20, 1999. Retrieved 2011-10-08.
  8. "Ofika figure for Lilwa Society". Quizlet. Retrieved 2011-10-08.
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