NGBAKA (BWAKA, NGBWAKA) (also see related Ngbandi)

 The Ngbaka numbering 400,000 to 900,000 are situated mostly south of the Ubangi River, in northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their settlements were dispersed and lack of overall political organization; a hamlet would generally be made up of an extended family or patrilineal clan. They practiced slash-and-burn agriculture growing manioc, maize, sorghum and bananas and lived off fishing and hunting. The Ngbaka had a system of initiation named gaza or ganza: “that which gives strength.” Future initiates had to undergo trials of physical endurance and would attain a first level of knowledge by means of song and corporeal techniques, particularly choreographic turns. In the rites of passage, recreations of ancestors played an important role. Circumcision and excision took place after several months spent outside the village.

Large slit drums are common, the end of which depict buffaloes and antelopes. Artistic products include figures, masks, pipes, necklaces, sticks, musical instruments, and zoomorphic statuettes used in the hunt. Grooves striate the nose, forehead and the temples. The Ngbaka men used this kind of scarification marks. Large figures and masks feature in the Ngbaka initiation ceremonies. Ngbaka masks, known as dagara, are worn during and after ceremonies associated with the gaza initiation and the circumcision of young men. They are oval and often have a concave face with an elongated triangular nose with vertical scarification on the nose and forehead. Ngbaka figures are often found in pairs and can be as tall as 40”. They are believed to represent their two primordial ancestors and are placed on altars in houses where they fulfill a protective role.  Small anthropomorphic or zoomorphic fetishes covered in red pigment are believed to bring good fortune.

Ngbaka dignitaries smoked anthropomorphic pipes, often covered with copper wire, and cephalomorphic harps were carved to accompany singers. The specific meaning and function of Ngbaka masks appears to vary depending on the group and its particular initiatory practice.       

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