Spirit Embodiments

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kongo peoples

Nkisi (power figure)

Wood, iron

H. 102.8 cm (40 1/2")

Indiana University Art Museum, 77.29

What happens, though, when a power object has served its purpose, or when the problems, tasks, or afflictions at hand have been resolved? When balance has been restored between the physical and supernatural worlds, when the needs of humans have been served, when problems have been resolved, the embodied spirit powers are deactivated by the ritual specialist, priest, or diviner. This protects the spirit embodiment from misuse by dangerous individuals, such as witches, sorcerers or other ill-intending persons. Deactivation of the empowered object is accomplished by the removal of the medicinal and/or symbolic ingredients and other activating components that went into the composition of the object. The deactivated object is then stripped of its active powers, such as this Kongo nkisi, and set aside to be used at a later date for another client or different affliction.