Title: Power Figure (nkishi)
Date: early 20th century
Artist: Unidentified Songye artist
Medium: wood, horn, and copper with reptile skin, fiber, glass beads, and iron nail
28 3/4 x 7 1/4 x 10 5/8 in. (73 x 18.4 x 27 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Morton D. May
Object Number: 408:1955
Place associated: Maniema province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Current Location: On View, Gallery 117
Nkishi such as this served as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine, and in judicial and healing contexts. While western collectors value the visual impact of these power figures, their ultimate importance to the Songye lies in their ability to protect the community from evil forces and disease. The power of such figures depends on their magical ingredients (bishimba), concealed in the abdominal cavity, in the top of the head, or in a horn set into the cranium of the statue. These hidden substances acquire potency and interact with the spirit world when assembled according to a precise formula followed by the nganga, or ritual practitioner.
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