All minkisi (sing. nkisi) are containers for magical substances, or "medicines," that empower them to protect the community or an individual against negative forces. They can, however, also cause misfortune, illness, and death. The containers come in a variety of forms, including cloth bundles, snail shells, clay pots, or sculpted wood figures in animal or human form. Figurative minkisi are carved by sculptors and activated by a ritual specialist (nganga) who places potent medicines—which were made of vegetal, animal, and mineral elements including dirt from ancestral graves—atop the nkisi's head, in its belly, on its back, or in any natural orifice and sealed in place with resin. Each nkisi figure has a special name, a specific pose, a particular function, and a ritual to activate it.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2014.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 160.