Figure (nazeze-type of yanda)

Zande peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

Anthropomorphic figures of indeterminate gender, like this one, are power objects called yandas after the protective spirits that the Zande peoples believe guard their communities. They were owned by the highest-ranking members of the Mani society, a secret association open to both men and women. Membership in Mani ensured one's general well-being, such as fertility, successful hunting and fishing, protection against malevolent forces, and resolution of family or legal problems.

Despite not being gender specific, Yanda figures are usually referred to as female because of their association with fertility and healing. Made of wood, clay, or soft stone, nazeze-type yandas are carved in an abstract style with a minimum of physiognomic details. The wood used to carve them has medicinal properties, and the figure's recessed navel is packed with potent magical substances.

Concealed in special containers, yandas were activated during a ritual in which they were anointed with libele, a plant mixture. Petitioners continued to anoint the yandas as they disclosed their problems to the figures, which were then returned to their receptacles. After a problem was resolved, the petitioner offered the yanda gifts of beads, metal rings, and coins, similar to the adornments on this figure. Over time the surface of the figure became so thick with encrustation that the carving beneath was obscured.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 158-159.