Bakongo Nkisi Power Nail Fetish Figure Congo
This figure features small orange glass pieces in the eyes and red fabric wrapped around the body.
Figures among the Kongo fall generally into a number of identifiable categories whose interpretation can vary and cross over as to function and meaning. Among the various Kongo groups sculpted figures represent elites and royals with a large number serving as power figures that would have magical materials attached. Sometimes, they would be covered with the familiar metal objects beaten into their surfaces which led to their being identified as "nail fetishes." These figures known as nkisi serve magical ends and control and direct ambivalent spirits. Other Kongo figures serve to represent ancestors or will function as shrine objects where offerings and prayers are offered to the spirits.
In fact the practitioner, priest, or diviner known as an nganga would fill the cavity in the belly with magical substances and would cover them with a mirror. Sometimes, pieces of glass are also encrusted in the eyes. These mirrors have the same meaning as the white pigment around the eyes: their role is to accentuate the sense of mystery surrounded this kind of Nkisi and to confirm its ability to see the future. Essentially, the nganga use the white pigment, as well as the mirror, as a metaphor for the power of "being able to read the invisible."
The Kongo people, who are a Bantu ethnic group primarily inhabiting the regions of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Republic of Congo, have a rich artistic tradition that includes the creation of various types of figurative sculptures. These sculptures, often referred to as Kongo figures, can be categorized into different types based on their intended function and meaning.
Power Figures: These figures, known as nkisi or nkondi, are believed to possess spiritual powers and are used for various purposes such as healing, protection, and justice. They are created with a cavity or receptacle in their abdomen, where medicinal substances, sacred objects, or materials associated with specific rituals can be placed. Nkisi figures are empowered through rituals, prayers, and the activation of their spiritual forces.
Ancestral Figures: Some Kongo figures represent ancestors and serve as a connection between the living and the deceased. These sculptures are often placed on ancestral altars or shrines, where offerings and prayers are made to honor and seek the guidance and protection of the ancestors.
Shrine Objects: Kongo figures are also used as shrine objects in spiritual practices. They can be placed in sacred spaces or shrines dedicated to specific spirits or deities. These figures serve as focal points for rituals, prayers, and offerings, acting as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual realms.
Bakongo Villi Miniature Figures: The Bakongo Villi are a subgroup of the Kongo people, and miniature figures associated with them represent specific individuals or groups. These small sculptures often depict aspects of daily life, community roles, or ancestral lineage. They can be used in various contexts, such as personal devotion, ancestral veneration, or as symbolic representations of cultural identity.
It is important to note that the interpretation and meaning of Kongo figures can vary among different communities and individuals. The significance attributed to these sculptures may depend on cultural, religious, and personal beliefs within the Kongo society.