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The Elongated Heads of the Mangbetu People

Mangbetu people live in Central Africa, in northeastern Congo. Their elongated heads gave them a distinctive look. At birth the heads of babies’ were tightly wrapped with cloth in order to give their heads the elongated look. Deformation usually starts just a month after birth for the next couple of years, until the desired shape has been reached or the child rejects the apparatus.

The custom of skull elongation, called Lipombo by the natives, was a status symbol among the Mangbetu ruling classes, it denoted majesty, beauty, power and higher intelligence.

Mangbetu 1

The practice started to die out in the 1950s with the arrival of more Europeans. It was also outlawed by the Belgian government, who ruled over colonial Congo.
Mangbetu 2

This deformation usually didn’t affect the brain. As long as intracranial pressure remains the same as that of a normal person, the brain should be able to adapt and grow into the new shape of the skull, resulting in no damage beyond cosmetic changes. The brain grows (expands) in the shape it’s given.
Mangbetu 3

Mangbetu 4

Interesting fact:

--The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates’ description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.

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