The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the CongoKongo 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

Ethnic groups throughout the Southern Savannah style area are linked by the common use of objects like this which are given magical curative or destructive powers by the addition of bilongo (effective materials) to the abdomen, back, top of the head or elsewhere by a ritual specialist, nganga. These materials may be placed in a horn that projects from the top of the head (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.505), in a rolled snakeskin belt or necklace (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.469), or in a cylindrical resin kundu gland that projects from the abdomen and is sealed with a "mirror of mystic vision, indicating the ritual expert's power to see beyond the glassy surface of the river, or the sea [beneath which the underworld lies]—to penetrate the secrets of the dead" (Thompson in Vogel 1981: 210).

Such objects may act as positive or negative forces on behalf of the client, protecting his family from diseases and spells, from witches and thieves, and bringing confusion and death to his enemies. 

This figure, which has accumulated a crown of feathers, metal anklets and collars, and a number of leopard teeth and shells, holds a medicinal plant to its mouth. The nganga may chew this plant to produce a viscous green sap that he spews over his clients as part of the healing ritual.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

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