The language is called Mangbetu in English and kingbetu in the regional language of Lingala, but the Mangbetu call it nemangbetu. It is a member of the Nilo-Saharan language group. One unique feature of it is that it has both a voiced and a voiceless bilabial trill. (The Labo language of Vanuatu, also known as Mewun, is the only other language known to possess this feature.)
The Mangbetu are known for their highly developed art and music. One instrument associated with and named after them is the Mangbetu harp or guitar. See  and.  for images. One harp has sold for over $100,000.
Musicologists have also sought out the Mangbetu to make video and audio recordings of their music.
The Mangbetu stood out to European explorers because of their elongated heads. Traditionally, babies' heads were wrapped tightly with cloth in order to give them this distinctive appearance. The practice began dying out in the 1950s with the arrival of more Europeans and westernization. Because of this distinctive look, it is easy to recognize Mangbetu figures in African art.
By the early 18th century the Mangbetu had consisted of a number of small clans who, from southward migrations, had come in contact with a number of northward-migrating Bantu-speaking tribes among whom they lived interspersed. In the late 18th century a group of Mangbetu-speaking elites, mainly from the Mabiti clan, assumed control over other Mangbetu clans and many neighboring Bantu-speaking tribes. It is likely that their knowledge of iron and copper forgery, by which they made weapons and fine ornaments, gave them a military and economic advantage over their neighbors.
The question of cannibalism
Many recent studies feature the Mangbetu as a historically cannibalistic people. According to Mangbetu men interviewed in the documentary Spirits of Defiance: The Mangbetu People of Zaire it appears that many Mangbetu currently believe their ancestors to have practiced cannibalism. David Lewis asserts that a "wave of flesh-eating that spread from inveterate cannibals like Bakusa to Batetela, the Mangbetu, and much of the Zande" resulted from ongoing political disorder caused by Swahili raids in the 1880s. However, Keim contends that many of the accounts of cannibalism are not based on "careful fieldwork in Africa but on nineteenth-century European accounts that were deeply prejudiced by Dark Continent myths."
- Linguist Wins Symbolic Victory for 'Labiodental Flap'. NPR (2005-12-17). Retrieved on 2010-12-08.
- LINGUIST List 8.45: Bilabial trill. Linguistlist.org. Retrieved on 2010-12-08.
- Arched harp (donnu) by Mangbetu people, Belgian Congo, ca. 1910–1920, at the National Music Museum. Usd.edu (2010-10-05). Retrieved on 2010-12-08.
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- L'orchestre Mangbetu (1954), IMDB.com
- Mangbetu People. Uiowa.edu (1998-11-03). Retrieved on 2010-12-08.
- Mangbetu. YouTube. Retrieved on 2010-12-08.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mangbetu people.|
- Christopher Ehret, The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 (University of Virginia Press, 2002), 436–438.
- Curtis A. Keim, Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind (Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 42–43, 92–93.
- David Levering Lewis, The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987).