Teaching Ideas

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • The _nkisi nkondi _is a power figure. How does the figure’s body and body language communicate power?

  • The action of pounding a nail into this figure sealed a contract or agreement. What actions are you familiar with that represent the sealing of a deal or agreement? Of these various actions, which seem more serious or formal to you and why?

  • What other religious or spiritual traditions have been established to hold individuals accountable for their actions? How do these traditions function similarly to or differently from this nkisi?

  • In part, this _nkisi’s _power derives from the belief that consequences will occur if an oath or agreement is not fulfilled and honored. Consider your own life experiences, or that of your friends. Are people more likely to respond to punishments for bad behavior or rewards for good behavior?

  • In our society, there are a number of implicit agreements that do not require formal contracts. (For instance: Every student knows that he or she is required to do homework or stay seated in class even if it is not in a written contract.) How do we decide which agreements should be formalized by contracts and which are better left to individuals?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • The contemporary artist Renee Stout is inspired by Kongo ancestral figures. In her sculpture Fetish #1__ (1989.128), she is influenced by power figures like this nkisi nkondi. In what ways is Stout’s sculpture similar to or different from the nkisi nkondi?

  • This nkisi _takes on an aggressive posture called vonganana _by the Yombe people. Find a partner and take turns posing for each other. When you are not posing, write down some words describing your partner’s stance. Then, switch with your partner. When finished, share your words with the rest of the group.