Ngala / Ngulu

The Ngala (Ngulu) sword is known as an “executioner’s sword”, for that was its primary use over a large area of the Congo. Manufactured by the Ngombe tribe, the ngulu was traded to many different tribes including the Bangala (Ngala) of the Mongo people and others over a wide area of what is now DR Congo, formerly Zaire. (See also Bangala Ngulu and Ngombe Ngulu). 

The name Ngala (Bangala) was used by early colonial authorities to describe an ethnic group that they imagined lived upriver from the capital.  Bangala was actually the name of a station on the Congo River, set up in the 19th century by Belgian Trappist monks.  Bangala also refers to the language, a dialect of Mongo that is spoken in the Orientale Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The name Ngala figured prominently on early maps and is today considered one of the three main regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In that area, however, many tribes are to be found, all part of the Mongo ethnic group.

These dramatic, elaborate knives were used as general ceremonial pieces but their primary purpose was the ceremonial executions of slaves.  Executions were not judicial events for criminals. They were ceremonial events and the "chosen" were invariably slaves. Execution of slaves was part of a ceremony to conclude a pact of peace among two warring tribes. The sword was used in decapitation's as described in Tribal Arms Monographs.  The victim would be bound in a sitting position with the head held by a twig frame secure to a bent over sapling.  The head is severed with this sword and flung into the air by the sapling.  After the head was severed, the onlookers would dismember the body and consume it.  The source of the information is from the account of Glave, who traveled with Stanley and witnessed this in the 1890s. He stated that the people executed were recently captured slaves were subsequently dismembered and a body parts sold for human consumption.

Drawing of Ngombe execution of a slave in Africa c 1890

By the 20th century, the ngulu had been transformed into a ceremonial dance blade due to the rules of colonial Belgium which forebade execution and cannibalism (equially widespread at the time).  The Ngombe were known as voracious cannibals and "fierce man-hunters", raiding and killing for "cannibal orgies" (see references).

The Ngombe used the knife in the "Likbeti" dance, which often lasted two days. A goat was sacrificed with a single stroke of the ngulu sword at the end of the dance, and feasting consumed the limbs and torso of the goat just as human victims were in earlier times.

Mongo Chief with ngulu sword

A Mongo Chief with ngulu sword


Nelson, Samuel H. Colonialism in the Congo Basin, 1880-1940. Athens, OH: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1994. Print. Africa Ser., No. 64.