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Cranial Alteration : The Mangbetu

The Mangbetu People are north eastern inhabitants of the Republic of Congo. What really sets this large subgroup of Congolese apart from their neighbors is the elongated shape of their head, a custom known to the natives as “Lipombo”. This look is achieved through the process of tightly weaving cords around a child’s skull when they are born, the tightened cords attached through the child’s growth cause the head to form an elongated shape. Braids are then woven to the crown of the scalp to form a flared head dress attached at the back of the skull.

An elongated head, in traditional Magbetu culture, was the epitome of beauty. A large head signified higher intelligence as well as stature. Known as the ‘Fashionistas of Africa’, the Mangbetu played a huge role in influencing culture and fashion around the world. The beginning of the 20th century brought Western film makers and artists to the doorstep of this aristocratic tribe. What could be more “exotic” and “striking” than the tradition of Lipombo? In the 1950s, the Belgium government, who ruled over colonial Congo, outlawed the practice.

Have you seen this elongated shape of the head before? Where? If so, was it in reference to the Mangbetu?

I've included the video below as a visual represantion for the process of lipombo. Unfortunatley, I could not find a transalated version for the French narrration; but I was intrigued by the craftsmenship of the Mangbetu shown within the video. Enjoy!


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