Mbole translates to “the people of downstream" which is appropriate considering this tribe originally inhabited a long strip beside the banks of the Congo River. They now currently reside in the equatorial forest on both sides of the Lomami River, located in the Tshopo Province. The Mbole is a patriarchal society controlled by the lilwa. Lilwa plays a part in almost all aspects of the tribe’s life. Each boy born in the village must undergo lilwa tribunal in order to continue living in society. The boys, and some privileged girls, are taken into the forest for two weeks to endure rituals that teach the lessons of life in lilwa, ancestral customs, and how to be a contributing member of society. Some of the lessons instilled in the initiates include respect for tradition, respect for elders, respect for one’s self and ones friends and family, do not kill without reason, and do not steal.
If a likomela, initiate in lilwa, breaks the rules or does something that is detrimental to the village or to lilwa they can be hanged for treason. Statues known as ofika are shown to initiates during the tribunal to enforce fear of breaking the rules lilwa society have set in place. Ofika are carved wooden statues that portray hanged men and women that have wronged the tribe. The statues do not share a likeness to the person hanged, but their spirit inhabits the wooden figure itself and their names are carved on the back. During tribunal the likomela is taught each ofika’s name, their crime, and the officials who sentenced them to be hanged.
Ofika are also used to ward off bad spirits and are brought to the village for sacred ceremonies. They’re usually kept in the forest on the outskirts of the village. Only members of lilwa can lay eyes on the statues. Most women and boys that have not gone through tribunal must flee the village when the ofika are present. Only when the statues are placed in a hidden location can they return.
There are four ranks within lilwa. All male Mbole are considered likomela, which are new initiates and is considered the lowest rank within the system. Women initiated are considered lumongo and can only marry yeni, the highest ranking official in lilwa society. Only a select few, privileged women are initiated into lilwa. Once initiated they are guaranteed to live a comfortable lifestyle because yeni hold most of the power in the village. The second highest ranking official is kanga or ritual therapists. They assist in governing the tribe, serve as medicine men, and resolve personal settlements between the Mbole. The third class is reserved for men who serve special functions within the village. Tuli are blacksmiths, opinga are sculptors, ikonykoy are singers, and onanga are principle officiates. Lilwa governs and controls almost every aspect of Mbole life.
While researching the Mbole I could not help but reflect on how religion plays a large role in most societies. Can you see a correlation between your government and the religion most practiced in your country or local region? How does society's values affect the way you think and act in day to day life?