The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. It is the second largest country in Africa by land area and is home to numerous ethnic groups exceeding 200 in total, some of whom are immigrants from neighboring countries. The majority of the country’s population belongs to one of the many Bantu-speaking ethnic groups.
Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity in Congo-Kinshasa
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is ethnically diverse, and more than 200 different ethnic groups have been identified in the region. An estimated 215 native languages are spoken in the country alongside French, which is the official language in the country.
The Luba people, sometimes referred to as the Baluba, are the largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Luba is an ethnic group made of culturally similar Bantu communities. The community is native to the Kasai, Maniema, and Katanga regions of the country. The community practices fishing along the Congo River, livestock keeping, and agriculture. Their religion is centered on a supernatural beings, spirits, and ancestors.
The Mongo people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo consist of several smaller constituent groups, including the Mbole, Ekonda, Boyela, Bolia, and Nkutu. These groups speak different dialects of the Mongo language. Collectively, those ethnicities listed under the Mongo group make up the second largest ethnic group in the country. The people traditionally relied on agriculture, hunting and gathering, and fishing. Their earlier religion centered on ancestor and nature spirits, which has so far been replaced with Christianity.
The Kongo ethnic group is native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola. The Kongo arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in line with the Bantu migration in the 13th Century. They settled under different kingdoms and mainly practiced agriculture. Agriculture is still practiced by the community in the modern day along with trade and fishing. The people’s religion is based on spirit cults and ancestor spirits. Although Christianity was introduced to the Kongo people by Europeans, the natives incorporated the religion with their customs and practices. The Kongo speak Kikongo alongside French and Lingala.
The Mangbetu ethnicity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is concentrated within the Orientale Province. Their presence in the country was a result of migration from Sudan at the start of the 19th century, where they met and interacted with Bantu-speaking communities, who influenced their language and culture. The community was distinctive due to their elongated heads. They wrapped a baby’s head with a tight cloth to achieve the renowned look. The practice was however banned during colonization. The Mangbetu are a highly artistic community, engaging in sculpting, pottery, and building. The community is also renowned for their music, mostly done through the Mangbetu guitar or harp.
The Moru ethnicity is native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. The Moru people are named in narratives depicting wars with the Zande people. These wars and slave raids helped to drive the group to their current settlements. They speak the Moru language and mainly engage in agriculture, trade, hunting, and fishing. They participate in dances and songs to mark various seasons, with their native instruments being the gara, the Kudi, and Lekyembe harps.
Migration of the Zande people into what ate now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan began in the 1600s. They reside in the tropical rainforest and the savanna, and mainly engage in agriculture, hunting and fishing, mostly along the Uele River. They are an ethnically mixed people and speak nearly five dialects of the Azande language which is similar to other Bantu languages. The Zande people firmly believe in witchcraft and superstitions. Their culture is mostly expressed through oral folklore, music, and dance. The Zande people have been caught up in rebel wars in Congo, prompting them to engage in warfare to protect their territories.
The Pygmies are considered to have been some of the earliest peoples to have inhabited the Congo River Basin. They are characterized by their short stature, are mainly hunters and gatherers and they inhabit the rainforest. The forests of Ituri and Kibali are home to Congo’s remaining Pygmies groups, which is the Twa, Bambuti, Baka, Mbuti and the Babinga. They have a symbiotic relationship with the neighboring Bantu communities, engaging in trade to acquire goods not found in the forest. They, however, maintain their culture in the face of external cultural influences. Music is a vital part of their lives and is made by complex vocal polyphony. Dance is an integral part of their rituals such as initiation, marriage, and healing. Their religion is centered in the forest, and they consider themselves children of the forest. Most of the other tribes consider the Pygmies to be sub-human due to their indigenous way of life. Some instances of soldiers feeding on the pygmies to absorb their‘forest powers’ have been reported.
The term "European Congolese" refers to nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have White European ancestry. Their history can be traced back to Belgian colonization of the country. Missionaries, settlers, and government officials were some of the Belgians who stayed after the country gained its independence, although their number has been decreasing due to civil war and instability. This group mainly speaks French, which is also the official language in the country
Relations Between Ethnic Groups in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been rocked by civil wars and internal strife since gaining its independent status, much of which has been fueled by ethnic rivalries. With the nation being incredibly rich in natural resources, different ethnic groups vie to clinch power and subsequently control the country’s wealth. Ethnic rivalries in the country are traced back to colonization, and the antagonism is more severe for non-native immigrant groups such as the Hutu and Tutsi from Rwanda.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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