By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

AngolaCongo, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (Ambrizette region); Kongo (Muserongo) peoples

Nkisi Nkonde (power figure)

Wood, iron nails, glass, resin

H. 51.4 cm (20")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.573

This power figure from the Kongo of lower Democratic Republic of the Congo was a public figure, whose magical power was activated by driving sharp points, tacks, nails, or blades of iron into the surface. Such objects (nkisi nkonde) were used for healing and for punishing one’s enemies and for oath-taking. Two people might seal an agreement between them by moistening two nails with saliva and driving them into the figure side-by-side, at the same time praying to the nkisi to punish whoever made the agreement. The agreement was made binding by wrapping the nails with cord or even with tiny model slave monacles. The figure stands with one arm raised (the hand once grasped a spear of knife) with the thumb pointing toward the realm of God, Nzambi.