The ‘Mangbetu’ are an amalgam of linguistically- and culturally-related peoples of northeastern Democratic Republic of CongoThe name Mangbetu refers to a large people group of the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The major subgroups are the Mangbetu, Meegye, Makere, Malele, Popoi and Abelu. The Mangbetu area is one of both forest and savannah. The economy is a mixture of agriculture, small animal husbandry, hunting, fishing and gathering. Cash crops have included palm oil, coffee, peanuts, rice, bananas, and maize.
Until very recently, the Mangbetu were one of a small number of Congolese peoples who paid death compensations. A person who died was considered to have done so "in the hands of" his father's family group. This meant that the father's group had to compensate the mother's group, regardless of the circumstances of death. Their traditional belief system includes a complex of ideas about witchcraft and sorcery. One such idea is that the power of witchcraft resides in an appendage of the small intestine, which is inherited by girls from their mother and by boys from their father.
The Mangbetu are basically patrilineal. At the same time, the maternal uncles of a man are very important. It was formerly a common practice for a strong nephew to be accepted as a ruler over his maternal kin. The nephew's son then became heir to his father's power. Tied in with these practices was the tradition of giving women to unrelated groups or exchanging women with them. This practice was accepted throughout the region as a form of peacemaking or alliance, but Nabiembali—and the Mangbetu who followed him—turned the custom into an institution of control over the many ethnic groups that were represented among their subjects. One of the primary advantages of this practice was that it could give a weak clan a strong leader, through the clan's maternal ties; however, Nabiembali used the practice in reverse. He developed a strategy of marrying many wives, not only to increase productivity, display his wealth, and have many sons, but also to legitimize his conquests and extend his control. His policy worked to the extent that some of his sons were accepted as rulers among their mothers' peoples. However, because his sons sought to extend their own power and the influence of their maternal clans (over which they ruled), and because they challenged the authority of their father, both centralized power and the extent of Mangbetu rule were eventually weakened.