Spirit Embodiments

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kongo artist

Nkisi (power figure)

Wood, feathers, glass, metal, animal teeth, shell, cloth

H. 29.2 cm (11.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.508

Although the specific form and style of the container used to embody the spirit force varies greatly, power objects commonly represent spirit beings in human form, such as this Kongo nkisi (power figure). The figures often include specific characteristics such as scarification markings, coiffures, and particular poses. These unique characteristics mark the identity of the embodied spirit, its particular personality, and its realm of activity. Hence, the spirit becomes both visually and physically tangible to the human community and can be invoked or manipulated into helping humans resolve their problems and cure their afflictions.