MSSU African Art Exibit : The MSSU African Art collection features a variety of authentic works of art from various tribes located throughout Central Africa. The objects in the collection range from mundane day to day grooming tools to ritualistic masks and statues.
Kongo Nkisi Nkondi Fetish Figure, Kakongo River Area
Object Name:
Figure, Fetish, Kongo, Nkisi
Other Name:
Figure, Fetish, Nail, Nkonde
Place of Origin:
Kongo, Democratic Republic of Congo / Cabinda, Africa
Aboriginal Indigenous Art.
H = 55"
W = 24"
D = 15"

The Kongo peoples use Nkissi Nkondi figures to bind oaths, seal contracts, or finalize treaties. To complete an agreement, packets containing bilongo power substances, such as earth from a tomb, river mud, and powered camwood, are attached to the figure with twine. Nails and pieces of metal are driven into the figure to activate its spirit. If the oath is broken, it is belived that the spirit embodied in the ferocious looking figure will punish the transgressor with a spear, originally held in the hole in the figure's right hand.

In order to stimulate and obtain a spirit's protection, Kongo people hammer nails into its wooden representation, shout at it, and sometimes insult it.

Bacquart, P. 128 — 131.

Nail and mirror fetishes are a unique and important phenomenon of Kongo sculpture. In the Kongo, all these fetishes are called nkisi. Nkisi means “medicine”. Historically, there were two types of nkisi, public and private, with some having vital democratizing roles, as sources of empowerment for rural residents and individuals outside the court. At most basic, the nkisi represents a container of empowering materials or “medicines” called bilongo. The magical substances may be blood along with animal, vegetable, and mineral matter. They are believed to invest the fetish figure with power and make it possible for the devotee to establish contact with the spirit. The “medicines” are generally secured in cavities in the stomach, head, or back to activate the work with the empowering agent. The nkisi, properly endowed with magic substances and additions by the nganga or doctor, had the power to act in a number of ways. There are four main types of nkisi, used for different purposes. Nkondi are fetishes of ill omen, usually brandishing a spear or a knife, while npezo are just as evil, but less menacing in attitude. Na moganga are benevolent figures, which protect against sickness and dangerous spirits. They help the hunter and the warrior; while mbula protect against witchcraft. All nkisi can be used for a variety of purposes and their meaning is ambivalent. The fetishes also may represent animals: two—headed dog, sometimes monkey.
Standing wooden figure with large head, and chest plate. Large inverted, D—shaped eyes, with small circular pupils and large prominent dark eyebrows. Broad slightly protruding wedge—shaped nose, large mouth with open lips, showing top row of teeth. Oval—shaped ears, no visible neck. Large black pointed coiffure atop center of head, with criss—cross grooves carved throughout entire surface. Hairline extending around center sides of head. Round pads of medicine or fetish material adhered to wooden body by rusty nails, in central abdomen area. Additional pads of medicine adhered to back, from lower head to lower waist area. Two small white faces, adhered to central back area. Other rusty nails stuck into body around shoulders arms and waist area in front, as well as entire back, upper shoulders, lower arms and waist area in back. Arms carved away from body and are bent at elbows so that the hands rest on the hips. Short square base with no visible feet. Entire waist area encircled by raffia skirt, as well as shoulders and lower chest area, forming a half circle shirt in front chest area. Black, brown and tan paint or patina covering entire facial area. Dark brown patina and libation over majority of remaining surface area.
Guy Mace Collection, (Turblex Company)
Wood W/Metal, Cloth, Glass, Fetish Material, Paint and Raffia
Ritually Used
Carving / Painting / Weaving
Art Department, Missouri Southern State University
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Left Side ViewLeft Side View