By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Yaka peoples

Biteki (figure)


H. 49 cm (19")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.425

Traditional healers are concerned with disease, sickness, and misfortune.  In African societies these are brought about by ill-will on the part of one person against another, and are effected through the use of supernatural power, or witchcraft.  The function of the healer is to identify the cause, identify the person who is the source of the malevolent power, and recommend a cure.  In contemporary Africa such traditional healers are consulted to cure very modern diseases such as AIDS because the modern hospitals staffed with western-trained physicians have neither the facilities nor the drugs to deal with the disease.  Large figures such as this one from the Yaka in Democratic Republic of the Congo were given healing powers by adding packets that contained powerful supernatural medicine that were suspended around the neck and waist.  These can be removed after a cure has been affected, as is the case here.