Pende Information

Location: Southwestern Congo (Zaire), Angola, Zambia
Population: 250,000
Language: KiPende (central Ban
Neighbors: Yaka, Suku, Chokwe
Types of Art: The Pende carve numerous types of masks, most of which are associated with education and initiation rituals. In the northwest part of the territory wooden figures are sculpted. Carved stools, staffs, chairs, and swords are used by chiefs and other important people to signify their power.
History: The Pende, along with their neighbors the Yaka and Suku, can trace their origins to modern day Angola, between the Atlantic Coast and the Kwanza (Cuanza) River. They were forced north to their current region during the Lunda expansion in 1620, which also resulted in numerous cultural influences. They are divided into two major groups, a western group who live just to the east of the Yaka and an eastern group who live on the western bank of the Kasai River. Although each group is culturally distinct they consider themselves as one people. The Chokwe expansion around 1885 engulfed most of the eastern Pende and some of the western group as well. Colonialism halted the expansion of the Chokwe and allowed the Pende to reclaim their independence.
Economy: The Pende are mainly farmers who produce millet, maize, plantain, and peanuts. The women do the majority of the farm work and are wholly responsible for selling goods in the community markets. The men help with the clearing of the fields and also contribute to the diet with occasional hunting and fishing in the numerous local rivers.
Political Systems: The Pende political system is mainly controlled by lineage and marriage. There is no recognized central political power, and the chiefs that do exist do not exercise significant authority. The extended family seems to serve the needs of social control within individual communities. The Pende are a matrilineal people, and the eldest maternal uncle in a family is usually recognized as heading the lineage, a position which entails ensuring the well-being of the family and taking care of the ancestors.
Religion: The ancestors (mvumbi) are placated through various rituals and offerings. The family head is responsible for taking care of the shrines and appeasing the spirits. The Pende recognize that spirits may be either good or bad, depending on the manner in which they died. Also, when ancestors are neglected they will cause bad things to happen to the family. The result may be sickness or hardship, both of which require a visit to the local diviner to determine the best way to appease the spirits. Through the diviner, the spirit will sometimes demand that a wooden sculpture be commissioned so that offerings can be made to it.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,