Four-horn community power figure



Songye peoples
Late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

Minkisi are said to be more important to the Songye peoples than are ancestor figures, which serve as vessels for the spirits of their ancestors. Songye minkisi are made in a variety of sizes according to their use, either personal or communal, and are figurative and non-figurative. This figure's large size indicates that it was owned by a community. During times of imminent danger, it would have been carried about in public by guardians who manipulated it with rods or poles fitted in the holes under its arms. Empowered by the spiritually charged materials within and applied to it, this nkisi intimidated malevolent forces and achieved positive outcomes for the community. Its size, horns, and belly project an image of power, strength, and fecundity.

Carved in the form of a standing male, this nkisi displays the regalia of Songye chiefs: a necklace of imported glass beads and a civet hide draped over his skirt. His head is intentionally oversized and further expanded by projecting animal horns to signify the size of communication with spirits. Copper strips applied to the figure's face refer to lightning, which can counteract malevolence. This figure's protruding belly—as well as the animal horns—are packed with consecrated substances to effect a magical intervention. This nkisi's name and specific function have been lost.

Adapted from

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

  • Kimberly L. Jones and Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2014.