**First Time At Auction**
Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bakongo peoples, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. A hand-carved wooden power figure, called a nkisi nkondi, is carved in the likeness of a human being which symbolizes its purpose, as each nkisi nkondi has traditionally been of service in human affairs. With woven textile garments and twisted rope necklace and headband, innumerable nails and other metal objects have been driven into the form over time. Each nail represents an occasion when two or more parties met to come to an agreement, make peace, settle an argument, or investigate or solve a problem that had troubled villagers. Size: 26" H (66 cm).
Power figures like this have traditionally been used during judicial procedures of the Bakongo peoples. In addition to settling legal disputes, nkisi nkondi have traditionally been used to protect a village, demonstrate innocence or guilt, heal the ill, and put an end to disasters. The types of nails or blades used reflects the kind of agreement made or the severity of the offense.
Beyond this, Nkisi Nkondi derive their spiritual powers from the medicinal powers deposited in cavities, either the stomach or the head of such figures. In this example those powdery substances are visible through a translucent face of the protruding round cavity over the abdominal region. The Bakongo peoples believe in the deity Ne Kongo who presented the first sacred medicine (or nkisi) from the celestial realm in an earthenware vessel that he carefully placed upon three termite mounds or stones. Nkisi generally translates as "spirit" and manifests in a container of sacred medicines or substances that are thought to be catalyzed by the supernatural when summoned into the earthly world. Oftentimes an nkisi manifests as a modest bundle; however, carved wooden figures like this marvelous example are more impressive visual manifestations.
This particular example is very dramatic. The visage is quite expressive peering out from deep eye sockets which represent the "other world" where spirits of the deceased reside and a slightly opened mouth, suggesting prayer or chanting. Said spirits are thought to peer through the eyes and identify enemies and guilty parties.
Provenance: private Pearson collection, Denver, Colorado, USA
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