BEMBE Information

Location: Southeastern Congo (Zaire)
Population: 70,000
Language: Ebembe or Kibembe (Bantu)
Neighbors: Boyo, Lega
Types of Art: The Bembe carve numerous kinds of wooden figures that represent various spirits. They also carve several different kinds of masks, the most notable being antelope horn masks (elande). Knives, staffs, fly whisks, and divination gourds are also often decorated.
History: The Bembe originate from the northwest forests of Congo (Zaire). They are representative of numerous ethnic traditions including Lega, pre-Lega, Boyo-Kunda, and Bemba. They are a tough and proud people who absorbed other populations and their systems of thought in the process of carving out their current homeland in a time of widespread conflict and under economic pressure from European invaders and slave traders during the 19th century. Their desire for more land continues to result in conflict in the area today.
Economy: The Bembe rely heavily on farming, which is done mostly by women. Rice, maize, groundnuts, beans, and bananas are the staple crops. Goats, sheep, pigs, and chicken are raised for meat. The men are responsible for supplementing this diet through hunting, to which they attach great ritual importance. Occasionally, the Bembe lease out some of their land to neighbors for grazing, and recently they have begun to prospect for alluvial gold and tin, which they can sell.
Political Systems: Although there is no centralized local authority in Bembeland, government is run quite effectively through a large number of patrilineal clans. The bwami society, which is made up of the influential men in the community, is responsible for making the political, economic, and judicial decisions which affect the community.
Religion: Religion is based on individual and lineage ancestor cults. The Bembe have also absorbed many of the religious ideas of their neighbors. They honor nature spirits (bahomba), the earth spirit (m'ma), and the spirit of Lake Tanganyika, Mkangualukulu, among others.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,