The Mongo inhabit the Congo Basin of central Zaire. They speak a dialect or language within a larger group of Mongo languages, which are themselves within, or related to, the Niger-Kordofanian, Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, and Bantu groups. There are 216,000 speakers of the Mongo dialect (Weimers 1971) and 3,200,000 speakers of the entire group of Mongo languages (Hayes, Ornstein, and Gage 1977).
The climate of the Congo Basin is noted for its high temperatures, abundant rainfall, and high humidity. Equatorial forests cover more than 1,040,000 square kilometers of the 3.9 million square kilometers of the basin. The distribution of flora and fauna is uneven, however, creating local habitats that have led to variations in human life-styles.
The Mongo began to enter the central part of the Congo Basin around the first century A . D . The first migrants probably settled in the most favorable ecological niches, mainly along rivers, where fishing became a major productive activity. Other groups moved inland to engage in hunting and yam farming. The banana, which produced larger food harvests than the yam, became a staple crop around A . D . 1000.
The colonial experience and the independence that followed drastically changed Mongo culture, as well as the cultures of all of the other indigenous peoples of Zaire. Many traditional Mongo beliefs and practices have survived, and they continue to be prevalent within the wider Zairean society today, despite the pressures to assimilate to the Zairean national culture. Clearly, the Mongo participate in the Zairean economy and work within a national labor force. They attend private or nationalized schools, and they have converted to Christianity in large numbers. It also seems clear that the Mongo have retained their tribal or ethnic identity, which implies the survival of key aspects of their traditional culture.