Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

Nkira ntswo ancestor statue. Teke. Malebo Pool region, Zaïre. Wood, resin, fibre, kaolin, mirror.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Teke

The territory inhabited by the various Teke groups forms a circle of approximately 300 kilometres, situated mainly in the Republic of the Congo and, to a lesser extent, in Zaïre, around and to the east of Malebo Pool (formerly Stanley Pool). The Teke of Zaïre recognize two types of ritual object: buti and nkir. These can be boxes, sacks or even shells, filled with various magical substances. Only some of these composite objects incorporate statuettes of the type exhibited here. These two types of objects are associated with two different categories of spirits: bapfu and bankir respectively. The first are the spirits of the anonymous dead; the second, of known and named ancestors. The two types of spirits use their protective or destructive powers on behalf of the statuette's owner or the family group to which he belongs. These figurines always include a receptacle housing a "charm" — usually a mixture of heterogeneous animal, vegetable and mineral substances. The charm, which sometimes covers the entire trunk of the sculpted figure, is believed to welcome ancestral spirits and to enhance their powers. The striations usually seen on the statuettes' faces represent the scarifications formerly borne by all Teke peoples.

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