The Mandja (also: Mandjia, Mandija, Manja) are an ethnic group found in the central region of the Central African Republic. They are related to the Gbaya people. They number approximately 250,000.
Although little is known about the history of the Manja, linguistic evidence suggests that during the past 2,000 years they migrated into their current homeland from the northeast, displacing the groups of nomadic hunters who previously lived in the area. Their oral history corroborates this evidence, indicating that they originally migrated from the area around Lake Chad to the north with their current neighbors, the Ngbaka and Gbaya peoples, to escape slave traders. Their migration was complete by the time Europeans arrived in the late 19th century.
The Manja are primarily an agrarian people, growing sorghum, maize, and manioc as staple crops amid the dripping rain forest that surrounds them. Bananas, taro, and yams are also important to the daily diet. The raising of livestock contributes relatively little to the local economy. Men fish in the local rivers and manage to snare the occasional meal through sporadic hunting. Regional trade is carried out along the major rivers. Men are responsible for clearing the land using slash and burn techniques, while the remainder of the farming work is done by the women.
The Manja live in small clusters of houses which remain relatively isolated and independent of one another. The eldest male member of each extended family is recognized as the leader among them. Men often marry several wives, each of whom is given her own house where she can raise her own children. The first wife is honored and often has significant influence over her husband. Low population density and the thickness of the surrounding forest requires each small community to be self-sufficient.
Manja religion centers around the ancestors. Important ancestral figures are represented in figures to which offerings are made in hope of receiving their blessings. One particular ancestor, Ngakola, once lived on among the Manja with his wife, Ngandala, and daughter, Yamisi. He had the power to give and take life. This great power is very much revered by the Manja, and he is represented in several sculptures found in museum collections.
There is not an abundance of Manja art in museum collections, and those objects that exist are believed to represent the ancestors. Their style is very similar to the Ngbaka and Ngbandi, although Manja figures usually do not have the thick scarification patterns that typify their neighbors.