Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the CongoKongo peoples

Nkisi Nkondi (power figure)

Wood, iron, fiber, beads, string, glass, feathers, chalk

H. 80.5 cm (31 11/16")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.836

In the past, African methods of controlling or manipulating supernatural forces were referred to as "magic." However, a better understanding of African belief systems and their relationship to health and healing reveals that "medicine" is a much more appropriate term. Thus, it is not surprising that the African arts of healing have diagnostic, preventative, and/or curative aspects like Western medicine. In many African languages, the term for "medicine," such as the Kikongo word bilongo, implies both Western and African medical remedies such as a pair of glasses, Western pills and immunizations, the narratives or dances of a healing ceremony, and the symbolic ingredients placed in a power object.