“The Bembe people migrated from Congo in the 18th century and resettled in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), near its border with Tanzania and Burundi. A semi-nomadic people, who often settled in forest environments, the Bembe tended to abandon their small villages as the soil became less fertile. The women cultivated the crops and the men hunted and fished.
The ‘cult of the ancestor’ is an important part of the Bembe social and spiritual life. It recalls the history of their respective clans through worship at private and public shrines, which appear in the form of miniature huts, enclosures or tables and are situated either somewhere in the village or on an ancestor’s grave. Often food is offered or animals are sacrificed on the shrine and, sometimes, magical stones, horns or blades are left in situ. In exchange, the ancestor protects the tribe and increases fecundity. Ancestor figures are rare and appear only in the south-western Bembe territory. They are roughlt made and are usually a cylindrical bus surmounted by a large head. Bembe artistic production is, in fact, limited mostly to masks.
Secret societies play and important role in Bembe life. The Bwami society, inspired by the neighbouring Lega tribe, exists in a simplified form, but male members are still circumcised and small statuettes and magical objects are handled. The Elanda society exercises social control over the tribe and is accessible to men only through a substantial initial subscription paid to the head of the society. The Alunga male society is in charge of public dances and is responsible for conducting the ceremonies which precede a hunt.”
Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1998. Print.