Monday, September 22, 2014
Nkisi nkondi (hunter figure). Democratic Republic of Congo, Kongo. Collected 1905
When I first saw this image in Art Beyond The West, I wasn't sure exactly what it was. It seems it is an African ritual sculpture of some sort. What really disturbed me was the fact that it had all these nails hammered into it as if they were torturing someone. It seems that there is a lot of expression in the statues face as it is raising its arm to attack who ever it was that had the curse on him. The wrists and ankles are bounded with rope as if someone had him restrained.
The priests of the Kongo use a type of carved wooden statue (pictured above) called a nkisi nkondi to find solutions for the villages problems. The name, which means something like "hunter," is used because the priests use such works to, "hunt" for solutions to village problems and search for wrongdoers, including those who do not keep sworn oaths. It is really interesting that priests use these statues to solve problems in the village. If a villager wants to become a "hunter" he has to swear an oath to the priest and drive a nail into the statues body to blind himself of spiritual forces. When the "hunter" has found a solution to the village problem, the nail that he drove into the statue is removed to signify that the problem is no longer an issue. Although colonial administrators attempted to repress their use after 1920, some priests "hunters" remain at work today.
O'Riley, Michael Kampen. "The Pacific." In Art Beyond the West, 246-247. 2nd ed.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006.
Figure 7.9 Nkisi nkondi (hunter figure). Democratic Republic of Congo, Kongo. Collected 1905. Wood, metal, glass, and mixed media; height 38" (97 cm). Barbier-Muller Collection, Geneva.