NGBAKA Information

Location: Northern Congo (Zaire)
Population: 400,000
Language: Gbaya (Ubangi)
Neighbors: Ngbandi, Ngombe, Gbaya, Mono
Types of Art: The most common forms of sculpture center around representations of Seto and Nabo. Often they are portrayed with a heavy ridge of scars which bisect the forehead vertically. The Ngbaka also carve several types of masks and numerous utilitarian objects.
History: The Ngbaka arrived on the Gemena Plateau in 1920. They migrated from the area around Lake Chad to the north with the Manja and Gbaya peoples. Throughout their travels they encountered numerous peoples who influenced their direction. It is known that the Ngbaka had contact with the Mabo at the Lua-Dekere River and with the Mono at the Bembe and Lubia Rivers. Although they share many cultural similarities with their neighbors, the Gbaya, they speak slightly different languages and consider themselves separate peoples. There is constant contact between them and their other neighbors the Ngbandi and Ngombe, yet there is often conflict between them over landownership.
Economy: The Ngbaka are primarily subsistence farmers who raise manioc and maize, along with sorghum and bananas. They also raise chickens and goats for eggs and milk. The region is nearly depleted of game, and hunting is no longer of economic importance. Most of the dietary protein comes from fish caught in the local rivers by women. The blacksmith plays an important role in Ngbaka communities. He is responsible for fashioning many of the utilitarian objects that are necessary for farming, and he also makes arrowheads out of iron, which are used for the little hunting that is done, and numerous other objects out of copper and, occasionally, ivory.
Political Systems: Being able to trace one's lineage to an important or very old ancestor is the primary measure of political importance in Ngbaka villages. There is no centralized power representing all Ngbaka, but there is normally a headman in each village who is selected and advised by individual family heads. All of the family leaders are expected to meet and agree on a policy before it can be enacted. Often this agreement is sealed with a blood pact. Polygamy is widely practiced among the Ngbaka. They are a patrilineal people, but the position of honor within the family is normally reserved for the oldest female member.
Religion: The Ngbaka believe in a supreme deity (Gale or Gbonboso). His message was brought to Earth by two messengers, Seto and Nabo, who are recognized as the primordial ancestors of the Ngbaka peoples. They are sister and brother who created the Ngbaka through an act of incest. Respect is paid to these ancestors whose carved images are daily placed upon the family altar (twabozo), where they are protected from any misfortune that might befall them. It is believed that they protect the owner and his family from hardship and that they also have the ability to cure many types of illness. Divination, which has the power to reveal the causes of misfortune, is an essential part of Ngbaka society. Young men and women are expected to go through circumcision, practices which have been borrowed from their neighbors. There is also a secret society for sorcery known as Wi-Limi.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,