The Dying African Culture of Skull Elongation

Must Read

TIME 100: Tony Elumelu, Three Other Nigerians Makes Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People Of 2020

Tony Elumelu, is among four Nigerians named by the Time Magazine International in their 2020 list of 100 most...

Zambia’s Namwali Serpell Wins UK’s Top Prize For Science Fiction

Zambia's Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her...

African Tribe: The Artistic Ndebeles of Southern Africa

The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork. Not much is known about these people except that they originated from the larger Nguni tribes who make up almost two thirds of the black population in South Africa.



The Art of Skull Elongation by the Mangbetu Tribe in DR COngo
Pinterest

As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. What appears to be a major deformity of the skull is considered a symbol of great beauty and social standing in the society by the Mangbetu people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Found in the remotest parts of northeastern DRC, the Mangbetu people have a distinctive physical appearance that is largely highlighted by their elongated heads.

While some people may view this physical feature as a serious deformity, the Mangbetu people consider it a symbol of beauty, prestige and power.

In the ancient times, members of this (now endangered) tribe considered the skull deformation as a sign of higher intelligence and a status symbol among the ruling class.

So, to ensure their children developed the desired shape as they grew up, women in this community wrapped their babies’ heads with tight cloths at birth.

The tradition, which is locally referred to as Lipombo, begins exactly a month after birth and continues for several years until the child acquires the preferred shape of the head.

Although The tradition was abolished by the Belgian colonialists who took over the territory in the early 19th Century, there are whispers that the tradition is still very much alive

The Science of Skull Elongation

Babies have soft heads, and it has everything to do with our bipedal stature and our gigantic tool-using, language-spouting, flesh-hacking brain.

An infant’s skull features a system of soft spots called fontanels, which serve two key purposes: They make the head malleable enough to squeeze through the mother’s pelvis and they allow breathing room for the further growth of the brain.

And grow it does! Young brains can even grow faster than young bones. Our skulls don’t begin to fuse together until we’re around a year old, and during that time they’re suitable to artificial deformation.

The exact methods vary, but the principle is always the same: Wrap or bind the infant’s head in such a way that the expanding skull takes an abnormal form.

Related:   Matriarchal Communities in Africa: African Communities Where Women Reign Supreme

None of these changes actually damages the child

Skull elongation
Pinterest

Safety Concerns

Although the practice was outlawed by European colonialists, who invaded the country in the 1950s, some members of the Mangbetu tribe still practice it to date.

While some people are opposed to this practice, fearing that it might affect a child’s brain development, experts have ruled out such possibilities, insisting that the brain is capable of adapting and developing into any shape of the skull.

They say the brain, being an elastic organ, can grow or expand into the desired shape without any form of damage or deformity.
Nonetheless, the cosmetic changes done to the skull are permanent. Mangbetu women also wear a distinctive coiffure to highlight their artificially elongated skulls.

Distinctive People and Traditions

In the 19th century, the Mangbetu tribe, whose name loosely refers to nobility, established several powerful kingdoms across Central Africa and later settled in northeastern Congo, where they practiced farming, fishing, hunting and gathering.

The group practices polygamous marriage, with its bride price being offered in the form of a substantial gift of livestock, while its lineage is normally patrilineal. The Mangbetu people are known for their impressive skills as builders, potters and sculptors.

Related:   For The First Time, Married Women In Botswana Can Own Land Alongside Their Husbands

Their outstanding political institutions and art fascinated early travelers and invaders in the region, who later employed the same approaches to establish political formations in other parts of Africa.

Leaders in this community were chosen based on two parameters; Nataate and Nakira. Nataate is loosely defined as the active power existing within a person and which earns them respect, while Nakira is said to be a person’s ability to succeed in almost every endeavor.

Overall, the Mangbetu tribe was and continues to be a fascinating group of people whose magnificence and creativity surpass human comprehension and imagination.

SourcesAfritorialface2faceafrica



Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to receive email updates

With a subscription profile, you automatically receive updates without having to return to the website and check for changes

Just In

TIME 100: Tony Elumelu, Three Other Nigerians Makes Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People Of 2020

Tony Elumelu, is among four Nigerians named by the Time Magazine International in their 2020 list of 100 most...

Zambia’s Namwali Serpell Wins UK’s Top Prize For Science Fiction

Zambia's Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her first novel "The Old Drift". The...

African Tribe: The Artistic Ndebeles of Southern Africa

The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork. Not much is known about these people except that they originated from the larger Nguni tribes who make up almost two thirds of the black population in South Africa.

Matriarchal Communities in Africa: African Communities Where Women Reign Supreme

From the Umoja community in Northern Kenya to the small rural community of Arnado Debbo in Niger state, Nigeria. These here are three African communities with long-standing traditions where to be a woman is superior.

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of South Sudan

The Dinka are a pastoral-agricultural people that make up the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. They vary their lifestyle by season – in the rainy season they live in permanent savannah settlements and raise grain crops like millet,

More Articles Like This