Nkondi statue. Kongo (Yombe). Lower Zaïre
region. Wood, metal, pigments, mirror, pig's teeth, beads, cowrie, fibre.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren
HOW IS THIS FIGURE DIFFERENT FROM
A NKISI NKONDI?
A nkisi nkondi is a figure which has the power to retaliate against
wrongdoers and sorcerers. The figure's power comes from a magical substance
that is usually kept in a small container at its stomach or feet. Some
nkisi nkondi figures have a raised arm, which would originally have
held a dagger or spear with which to attack the enemy (along with the magic
substances, these weapons have disappeared from the figures exhibited). In
contrast to the Nkanu mpungu figure, the nkisi nkondi's
message is a cry for revenge.
HOW DO POWER FIGURES
A sculptor makes a wooden anthropomorphic statue (one shaped like a human
body). In the case of a nkisi nkondi, the object is transformed and
empowered through a ritual in which a nganga or ritual specialist attaches
a receptacle containing magic substances to the figure. The victim seeking
retaliation licks a nail and the nganga inserts it in the figure.
As he hammers nails and blades into the body of the nkondi,
shouting insults at it, the nganga wakes the spirit inside, making
it angry and encouraging it to punish the wrongdoer.
WHAT ROLE DO THE MATERIALS USED
A specific motive prompts each piercing of the power figure; not all
requests are for evil (power can be used for a positive change), although
the use of metal nails usually signifies a wish for violence. Other
materials are also used to empower a figure, for example, claws, hair and
horns imbue the figure with the characteristics of the animals they