Nzebi people



The Nzebi or Bandjabis (plural of Nzébi) are a Bantu people from Central Africa established in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, speaking several dialects including Bandjabi, Adouma, Awandji, Batsiagui, Sihou (or Bassissihou).

According to sources there are several variants: Bandjabi, Bandzabi, Banjabi, Banzabi, Benzali, Ndjabi, Ndzabi, Ndzebi, Njabi, Njavi, Njawi, Nyawi, Nzabis, Nzebi

According to the oral tradition, the Nzebis come from the village Koto, located in the province of Ngounié, Gabon.

There are seven clans in this ethnic group: the Maghambas; the Mouandas; the Bassangas; the Mitshimbas; Cheyis the Baghulis (Barouli); the Mboundous. These clans were created by the seven patriarchs, born of Nzebi, their ancestor.

Nzebi People

Global population is 227.500 in 2 countries. The Nzebi of Gabon are numbering 198,000. (, 2024)



Depending on the sources, several variants are observed: Bandjabi, Bandzabi, Banjabi, Banzabi, Benzali, Ndjabi, Ndzabi, Ndzébi, Njabi, Njavi, Njawi, Nyawi, Nzabi, Nzebi



They speak a Bantu language, Nzebi or Inzabi6 and several languages ​​or dialects including Douma, Wandji, Batsiagui, Sihou (or Bassissihou)


Introduction / History

The majority of the Nzebi people live in small villages and towns spread across the forested lands of southern Gabon with a small population over the border in southwestern Congo (Brazza). Many, however, are found in the major urban centers of Gabon, especially in the capital, Libreville. The church was well established amongst the Nzebi beginning in the 1930s through the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Today, a congregation meets in nearly all Nzebi villages for worship and teaching.

Some still follow the traditional pagan religion, Mbuti, and especially in the villages there is much nominal Christianity with syncretism of Christian practice and traditional religion. Spiritual needs include the whole Bible in the vernacular, greater use of the vernacular as opposed to French in worship and preaching, and trained pastors and lay leadership for village churches.

They are primarily subsistence farmers who grow manioc, plantains, corn, yams, sugarcane, taro, peppers, oranges, pineapples, and bananas. Small cash crops include coffee, peanuts, palm oil, dried fish, and yams in local markets. The Nzebi also hunt and fish. They are adequately educated with a fairly high literacy rate in French. Gabon's stability, established through good leadership and rich oil reserves, has made electricity and clean water available to many in the cities, towns, and villages though some towns and villages are still without one or the other of these.

Nzebi People


Their main productions, given their rural lifestyle, come from hunting and agriculture. Their society is distinguished by great solidarity and apparent equality between men. The arrival of money, imposed by colonization, endangered the old clan order.

They are described by numerous explorers, missionaries and first administrators as “an industrious and prosperous people who participate intensely in long-distance trade by exchanging their varied productions. In the 19th century, it was the rubber-producing people par excellence, they worked, hunted, cultivated bananas and peanuts. He makes pottery and forges his own weapons with barrel circles.

Social organization: groups and clans

A current distinction between Nzèbi Nzèbi and Nzèbi Tsaangi is manifested during the oratorical jousts which punctuate village life, by reference to the founding heroes Nzèbi and Mbéli. It would seem that the current Nzèbi social group is the result of a migration of Nzèbi, at an undetermined date, to part of the Tsaangi country. They ended up, following commercial exchanges - extending to women - by constituting only one group. On the other hand, the differentiation remains: two stories of origins distinguish, for one, the hero Nzèbi, for the second Mbéli; and while the Nzèbi are people of the forest, the Tsaangi live in the savannah. Before the arrival of the French, the Tsaangi were renowned as iron producers, towards the upper Ogooué. The Nzèbi only had blacksmiths and a few founders who seemed to have their knowledge from the Teke tsaayi. Over time, based on linguistic, cultural and social similarities, the two groups came to form one.

If "the members of a lineage, ten to fifteen people, live in a set of relatively neighboring villages and between which matrimonial relations exist", it is not the same for the members of a clan, who are scattered over all the territory where Nzèbi meet, due to migrations and the people encountered. Furthermore, belonging to a lineage leads to belonging to a clan. And each clan includes a network of lineages.

We find, in this ethnic group, twelve clans, non-territorialized and whose members are dispersed:

Seven of them were created by seven patriarchs, founders of villages, and born from Nzèbi, the ancestor of them all. There is an absence of inequality between them. They form, as Pierre Rosanvallon says, “a type of society in which no one is subject to the will of others”. but the Pygmy is an exception, because it is dependent on the Makhamba clan. Then the story addresses the first conflicts which will introduce the end of initial equality

To these seven clans, we must add those created by five patriarchs, founders who were born from Mbéli;


Oral literature

The muyambili: essential actor, the one who holds the knowledge.

Nzèbi knowledge resides in the memory of men. Knowledge was transmitted by the word of the muyambili (the one who speaks). He acquired his knowledge from childhood after being distinguished by his reserved and respectful attitude. Education ends in adulthood. It is transmitted by a maternal uncle, or a clansman, or simply a grandfather.

It was mainly a matter of memorizing what concerns the clan, its mottos, his own, of course, but even more what concerns the other clans. However, the clan space is structured by matrimonial relations. Each marriage is concluded by the giving of a dowry, and the dowry is a way of “recognizing the clan which receives it as an equal to its own”.

It is during the night, after several of these transactions, mbwakha, offered to her father that the young woman can come and live with her husband. The dowry goods being kept out of sight, they are therefore never an ostentatious sign of wealth, they circulate, linking the clans to each other. For an archaeologist, before colonization, we found ourselves in an egalitarian society.

The wealth linked to the circulation of women is invisible. Wealth is also immaterial, it is the possibility, for men, of having the time to learn, at a young age, of clan knowledge. Adult, it is the one devoted to matrimonial transactions and the possible resolution of tensions or conflicts through oratorical jousts, where the muyambili occur, who have devoted a lot of time to their training.

By contrast, inequality is especially evident in the condition of women and, more discreetly, that of the Pygmies, who are, both the woman and the Pygmy, present at the beginning of Koto's story in a position of dependence. But this is not visible. Equality only exists between Nzèbi men.

Oratorical jousts: mikundukhu and mbomo.

The knowledge of muyambili therefore gave rise to oratorical jousts between them during mikundukhu and mbomo. The mikundukhu allows the alliance between two clans to be renewed after the natural rupture caused by the death of one of the spouses, which occurs regularly.

The mbomo was a rare procedure, and only occurred when there was a refusal to reimburse the dowry during a divorce, or when there was a refusal to pay blood money after a murder. This mbomo was banned because of the risks: suicide of the loser, or death from drug abuse in the hope of dominating in the oratorical exercise. During the mbomo each muyambili, for his argument, was limited to the quotation of only nine formulas and proverbs, which he had to link to the history of the clans.

It is on this occasion that the inequalities produced by the slave trade are revealed and recorded by the muyambili. Because the decisive argument consisted of showing, by appealing to the perfectly known history of the opposing clan, that the opponent belonged, in his clan, to a house of servile origin.

This public confrontation between several muyambili manifested itself with extreme aggression between them. It is the knowledge about the other clans which was, thus, determining and the most appreciated by the people who attended the “mbomo”, and they showed it with energetic ovations.

In all these procedures, if the word expressed abundantly characterizes muyambili, the silent word is just as important. Because memory only has value in its perfect, chosen, controlled exposure. Except in extreme cases, where inequalities are mentioned in whispers, understood in the moment as quickly as forgotten, the muyambili speaks of the unity of the Nzèbi and the solidarity of the members of the clan despite the dependencies that exist within it.

The muyambili are not in the service of a power, civil servants, griots, they are the power of the clans, when they speak. It is therefore a fragile power that is regularly tested throughout their lives. The repeated tests give them a level of competence which distinguishes: the intermediate level requested in the different amicable settlements, the mbanza, up to the master of speech, muyambili, and up to the "wrestler", mutsundi, for the the most serious conflict situations.

The muyambili were also those who, with young people during the period of circumcision, taught them the migration of clans, currencies, lekumu, and references that would be useful to them throughout their lives. Initiation rites must have existed, the Musée du Quai Branly preserves a mask with a human face (late 19th - early 20th century), whose colors vertically divide the left, blue part - forehead, eyebrow, eyelid and cheek - is more reduced than the right part, white. The mass of hair, very small in size and painted black, has the shape of a small crest.

From the 1950s, circumcision was carried out at birth, in dispensaries, and this teaching disappeared. It was knowledge, not only fragile, but also deadly



The great diversity of work corresponds, more or less, to the diversity of workers: men, women, mixed, collective or individual work. And collective work can involve only a few men, or women, the household, the neighborhood (itsuku), the entire village or several villages.

Itsku is also the level which corresponds to the most common hunts. But we often borrow from outside, for example nets for hunting. Itsuku is also the level at which the contradictions between hunting and agriculture are resolved. An itsuku brings together around ten men and their wives



Cassava, the main food, is accompanied by peanuts, eggplant, squash, bananas, taros, several species of yam, sugar cane and vegetables: okra, pumpkins, tomatoes, etc. Banana tree cultivation, behind the house, provides a “belt” to the village. Tobacco, in small quantities, remains near the huts.

Burning follows clearing, at the very end of the dry season (June-September), on trees that have been on the ground for a long time and have partially dried out. The rains enrich the earth with mineral elements from the ashes. Cassava cuttings are then done simply with a knife. It only begins to be harvested a year and a half later. In association with cassava, squash and eggplant are grown alternately. Eggplant is harvested in January-February, squash between June and August. The latter sends roots deep, while the squash remains on the surface: the soil is used very well, and this over two years, alternating, therefore.

Furthermore, yams are planted at the same time as cassava, and the harvest of the various species of yams takes place over six months. A few sorrel, corn and sugar cane plants mark the boundaries.

Peanuts cover half of the cultivated land. It grows either after clearing, after manioc cultivation, or every three years after a two-year fallow period. Harvests last from the end of February to May



Men hunt in groups and this requires complex cooperation, with unequal functions between the hunters but which find a form of compensation, among other things, by the rotation of the hunters in their respective positions. Ordinary net hunting consists of surrounding the game and bringing it, with the help of dogs, into an enclosure (between 30 and 50 m.) of nets brought by each participant, the length of the enclosure varying in function of the game (Sitatunga antelope, gazelle, South African porcupine).

If the hunts are very varied, with very differentiated roles assigned, they result in equally varied sharing, the participants being able to come from the same neighborhood (eight to ten participants) or from several villages (up to 60, even 100 for the gorilla). Squirrel hunting may require arbitration, as the roles are of a different nature, except when the hunters come from the same household, the meal being taken together. Monkey hunting takes place in a deforested area, at the end of the rainy season, the monkeys having gorged themselves on seeds and fruits. Gorilla hunting was once practiced to free a neighborhood from crops that they had invaded.

The distribution of hunting products is based on criteria linked to the function of the hunter, always on a small scale, this distribution indicates the fundamentally egalitarian character of this society. Each function of the participants corresponds to pieces of game which must favor the abilities of each role played by the hunter; the most important (importance limited to the time of hunting) being: the tracker, the owner of dogs, the tout, the killer, the specialist in magical techniques.



For their part, women often fish alone, sometimes collectively, and sometimes with the participation of men. They practice several types of fishing, in small rivers near the village, all year round during short dry periods, or from camps, during the long dry season. These are fishing with nets, creels and poison. A single man can also fish, with a line.



The village also produces what it needs in terms of basketry, pottery, weaving (vertical loom with one row of heddles, borrowed from the Téké) and finally, wood, including kitchen instruments, combs and stools. Gathering padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii) was once important for the body painting of many ethnic groups and for certain rituals, and this was the case among the Nzèbi.

Nzèbi metallurgy stopped after the French intervention, around 1920. Only the Tsangi tribe is renowned, in literature, for its iron production. The deposits were located in the villages of Ngongo and Makengi. The ore, in layers alternating with charcoal, was melted in a low furnace dug into the ground. The mass of metal obtained was either kept for the dowry (rarely) or cut and forged. Around sixty days of work were needed to produce approximately six kilograms. iron ready for use.



Nzébi cuisine is made up of a large presence of vegetables which accompany the meats.

The vegetables



In the Chaillu forest, before 1989, the Nzèbi, like the other groups who live alongside and interpenetrate, practiced ceramics. The nature of the material worked and the processes vary extremely from one place to another. Cooking is always done over an open flame, but it can vary from one hour to overnight. In principle, potters work for the family. Furthermore, “pottery is far from being considered essential, competing with many other “containers”: leaf packaging for stewing or steaming, dried gourds for transporting and preserving liquids. and seeds, as well as basketry and wooden containers, etc.



Christianity is the most practiced. However, there are still ancient secret societies that have survived to this day. These are in particular: bwiti, mwiri, ndjobi, mabandji, and nyèmbè.