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|The Mangbetu are groups of linguistically and culturally related peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like many neighboring West African peoples, their rich musical heritage has an important role in their communities. |
The Azande in the north, or the Mangebele and the Matchaga Bantu-speaking peoples in the south likely introduced harps to the Mangbetu during the mid nineteenth century (Schildkrout and Keim 1990: 198). Harp production among the Mangbetu proliferated during the colonial period, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Individual musicians used them mainly as an accompaniment to particular songs, and they held relatively little musical importance in comparison to the ivory horns, slit drums, and iron bells employed in court music. They were actively collected by European traders and agents, who valued them more for their aesthetic qualities than as musical instruments. By the 1930s, harps had virtually disappeared from Mangbetu music. (Ross Miller 1992 : 51)
Standard material utilized in harp construction were wood, plant fiber, and animal hide. Animal pelts, such as leopard or okapi, as well as pangolin scales, and reptile skins were used decoratively on the hourglass or oval resonator. The addition of these decorative materials emphasizes the production of Mangbetu harps as art pieces rather than functioning musical instruments. There are stylistic similarities between Mangbetu and Azande harps, such as the traditional five strings, and anthropomorphic carvings along the stem of the instrument. (Perani and Smith 1998: 225). Mangbetu harps typically portray an elongated head that reflects a cultural expression of beauty that is achieved through cranial binding in infancy. The style in figurative expression can also be seen on some Azande harps. Mangbetu and Azande harps are differentiated by the location of the pegs; the Mangbetu are located on the right side, while the Azande are on the left. Further, Mangbetu harps do not have legs attached to the resonator, an anthropomorphic form employed only by the Azande. (Perani and Smith 1998: 225)
Perani, Judith, and Fred T. Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa: Gender, Power, and Life Cycle Rituals. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Ross Miller, Thomas. “The Evidence of Instruments.” Anthropology & Humanism, Volume 17, Issue 2, (June 1992): pp. 49-60.
Schildkrout, Enid, and Curtis A. Keim. African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire. Seattle: U of Washington, 1990.
Research: Ava Muhr 2014
Field Notes: KONDI. A sort of mandoline made by a MANGBETU from NIANGARA carved entirely in ivory and covered with the skin of the foreleg of an OKAPI. See photo.
• AFRICAN REFLECTIONS: ART FROM NORTHEASTERN ZAIRE. AMNH, NEW YORK, NY. June 1990 - February 1994
Exhibition Label: Ivory harp with okapi fur. On many harps produced from c. 1900-1925, a full figure forms the neck. This harp, with carved elongated heads on its ivory tuning pegs, was commissioned for the American Museum by Chief Okondo.
• WHITE GOLD, BLACK HANDS: IVORY SCULPTURE IN CONGO VOL. 7. FELIX, MARK LEO, EDITOR. 2014