Democratic Republic of Congo
Wood, fetish material, libations.
12″ Tall (30.48 cm)
Private Estate Collection – California, USA.
The Banganga (diviners) harness the powers of bakisi (spirits) and the dead by making objects called minkisi (sign. nkisi, “medicine”). Minkisi are primarily containers – ceramic vessels, gourds, animal horns, shells, bundles, or any other object that can contain spiritually charged substances. Minkisi serve many purposes, some are used in divination, many are used for healing, while others insure success in hunting, trade or sex. Important minkisi are often credited with powers in multiple domains. Minkisi may also take the form of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic wooden carvings, and it is these that have principally interested art historians. Centered on its abdomen is a bulging form where the substances that empower it have been sealed with resin. The word used for belly also means “life” or “soul”, and activating materials are most commonly placed there, though they may also be placed at the top of the head, on the back or between the legs. Called bilongo, activating substances include three main types of ingredients: mineral from the land of the dead, items chosen for their names, and metaphorical materials. The most important minerals include kaolin, the white clay (used in this BaKongo nkisi’s eyes)closely linked to the world of the dead, and red ocher, whose red color refers symbolically to blood and danger even as it signifies mediation of the powers of the dead to the living for both affliction and cure. Ingredients chosen for their name include certain leaves and seeds whose names are puns for the attributes and functions of the nkisi. Metaphorical materials include such things as the heads of poisonous snakes, the claws of birds of prey, and nets, all of which suggest the power to attack, to produce death or sickness. The bilongo in the belly of nkisi are sometimes sealed with mirror. Mirrors enable BaKongo nkisi to see witches approaching from any direction and thus serve as a sort of compass the tells the nganga where evil lies. The glitter of the mirror was also believed to frighten witches.