Women’s back aprons / Cache-fesse
« Negbe » des femmes Mangbetu de la R.D. du Congo
« Ces caches fesses nommés « Negbe », étaient portés par les femmes Mangbetu lors des danses cérémoniales sur un cordon de fibres enroulé en dessous de la ceinture. Ils sont fabriqués a partir de feuilles de bananier ou de sycomore pliés et liés entres elles. Les très belles compositions décoratives, abstraites et graphiques, dont la symbolique nous échappe, mais qui sont très certainement distinctives du rang de la personne, sont structurées a l’aide de morceaux de fibres teintées en noir formants des motifs géométriques du plus bel effet. Ils étaient toujours portés dans le dos, couvrant les fesses, et servaient également de tapis de sièges. »
Collected by the Soeurs Missionaires Dominicaines de Namur, 1934
Women’s back aprons
« By the beginning of the twentieth century, upper-class Mangbetu women wore a small plaintain leaf shield, called negbe (egbe, plural), in the back to cover their buttocks. The women appliquéd delicately cut and colored pieces of leaves onto an oval pad built up of layered plaintain leaves. Colar contrasts in the designs were achieved by blackening the leaves for the appliqué with mud or, occasionally, by adding lighter-colored corn fibers. Many egbe had a fiber hood that fit over the belt and into the hollow near the base of the spine. Although Herbert Lang stated that egbe were widely used before his time, Schweinfurth neither mentioned nor drew the negbe, which suggests that it came into use after his visit. Casati, however, mentioned ‘a little apron of doubtful effect’ (1891, 1:121) – possibly the nogetwe worn in front and not the negbe .
Herbert Lang wrote in his notes about these aprons: ‘The portion of their clothes that covers their hind. It is very simply adjusted. The lengthened piece on the back is simply pushed down the natural furrow, the string between the narrow and flat piece. The Mangbetu women do not like that their hind quarters are exposed to the looks of men, but when making their toilet they are well satisfied to take a piece not larger than the width of a finger for covering this portion of their backside. In front they take then a piece of bark cloth the size of their hand, so as to cover just that portion which is covered with hair. In this one branch the women create the most astonishing variety of patterns and each woman changes the pattern continually. As a rule they use only banana leaves in making them. They are easily blackened and have a great resistance. Formerly much in use, now it is difficult to get them. There are only two women in the village of Okondo who know how to make them. They are woven of bast. Some have a lengthened portion that lays flat on the. They arrange first the leaves and sew bast through. They sometimes produce good patterns. Very few of the women are able to do this kind of work. Usually it takes about a day to make one of these covers for their back, but they never work continuously. The leaves are first sliced deep and pressed between the mats of their bed. They sleep upon a week or so, sometimes there are several bunches like this between the mats for future working. The outside leaves are then collected and blackened. They usually work one hour or two in the morning (before they do other work) in making these covers and in this may spend several days. The women admire the creations of their friends and the more experienced ones very often give their welcome advice. They only use a needle, (best to sew and tie) a pointed stick (to make the knot) a knife to cut the designs. The designs are cut out without making preliminary indications for the pattern (free hand).’ (notes 1008 & 1055) Most of the appliqués egbe designs were highly symmetrical and geometric. The flapping of the egbe was considered desirable, especially in dances. Styles of egbe changed over time. Those collected in the 1930s and 1940s include raffia braids and tan banana leaf patterns. Today similar are worn for dances. »
Les Mangbetu peuplent le nord-est de la République démocratique du Congo, dans la Province orientale.
Collection Sanza François