The Ngbandi are an ethnic group from the region of the upper Ubangi River; they inhabit the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Central African Republic.
They traditionally speak the Ngbandi language, which is part of the Ubangian language family. Ngbandi is a language of the Adamawa-Ubangi subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family that is related to that of neighbouring Banda and Gbaya.
Ngbandi is a term preferred by Belgian ethnographers, while the French include these people with such “Ubangian” peoples as the Gbanziri, Nzakara, Sango, and Yakoma. The Ngbandi came from what is now South Sudan, converging upon and assimilating a number of small groups in their present lands. Ngbandi of the Bandia clan conquered Zande areas in the 18th century, creating a series of states; they assimilated Zande culture and language and are now indistinguishable from that group.
Rural Ngbandi grow corn (maize), cassava (manioc), peanuts (groundnuts), sweet potatoes, lima beans, peppers, pineapples, papayas, and tobacco.
Traditionally, men have hunted, fished, and cleared land for cultivation, while women have gathered wild foods and done the hoeing, planting, and harvesting.
Their settlements were dispersed and lack of overall political organization; a hamlet would generally be made up of an extended family or patrilineal clan.
The Ngbandi traditionally lived in compact villages consisting of a single row of dwellings.
They have been mainly patrilineal, though there have been circumstances in which a man might reside with his maternal uncle. Ngbandi chiefs have acted as arbiters and priests of the ancestral cult central to traditional social life. Polygyny is practiced but has been on the decline for many years.
The Ngbandi were once renowned warriors, and their craftsmen produced lances and knives of high quality that were traded with many neighbouring groups; these are now prized by collectors of African art.
Ngbandi also produced elegant curved-neck harps reminiscent of those of their ancestral peoples living in Chad and South Sudan.
This culture and others of Sudan had close connections, as expressed by shared usage of a musical instrument, a kind of harp, whose form is distinctive to this area.
The Ngbandi 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, re-creations of ancestors played an important role. Circumcision and excision took place after several months spent outside the village.
Artistic products include figures, masks, pipes, necklaces, sticks, musical instruments, and zoomorphic statuettes used in the hunt. Large slit drums are common. The artistic style of their statues and masks, which are closely related to Ngbaka, is characterized by the elongated features and a line of vertical scarification on the nose, forehead and sometimes in the sides. The statues have rather slim bodies; arms usually against the torso but occasionally separated; legs slightly apart; hair indicated by triangular incisions. The masks have flat, oval eyes with white paint around them, making the masks rather stylized. Most of the statues and masks were used by the bendo (diviner) in magical ceremonies, although some ancestor-cult statues are also known. Figures representing Ngbirondo spirit are kept in special huts where libations are poured over them. They can also be placed at the entrance to the village for apotropaic reasons. Some masks have simian features; their function during initiation is not known.