Mangbetu Woman's ornament
Uele Region, northeast DR Congo
Size: 14"  x 10 1/4'  (36 x 26 cm) 
From the collection of The Missionary Sisters of Namur, Belgium

The negbe, an oval ornament with graphic designs was worn by haigh ranking women of the Mangbetu court, who were renowned for the elegance of their style and body decoration. It was nestled in the arch of the lower back, its shape echoing the distinctive shape of the Mangbetu woman's hairstyle.

The tradition appears to date to the 20th century. Egbe are constructed from either raffia or plantain leaves that are layered to form a pad whose surface is either embroidered with raffia fiber or appliqued with abstract patterns cut from plantain leaves. The leaves are blackened with mud to create a strong contrast with golden tones of the background.

Reference:  Enid Schildkrout and Curtis Keim, African Reflections. Art from Northeastern Zaire (1990 p.141