Seated male power figure (nkisi)

Kongo peoples, Yombe peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

All power figures (minkisi; sing. nkisi) are containers for consecrated substances, or "medicine," that empower them to protect, heal, or destroy. Such medicines are packed into body orifices or within a visible medicine pack on the torso that is sealed with a mirror. The postures and gestures of minkisi are meaningful.

This nkisi power figure of a man touches his face in a contemplative gesture and leans forward with his legs arranged in the fu-mani position, a sign of caring, competence, and responsibility. The sculptor has carefully and realistically depicted the nkisi's prestigious knotted pineapple skullcap (mpu) and the jewelry he wears on his wrists and upper arms. The figure probably represents a chief, but perhaps a healer and/or diviner as well.

The medicine that empowers this nkisi is hidden in the cylindrical container projecting from his torso. The imported mirror sealing the cavity enables him to see which supernatural forces are active, and the glass eyes allow him to peer through water to otherworldly wisdom in order to solve the owner's pathological or spiritual problem.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 162-163.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.