About this artwork
A nkishi (plural mankishi) is a container for holding potent medicines, which when activated protects families, individuals, or communities from various ills. The medicines or ritual substances and offerings are typically applied through an animal horn inserted into the crown of the sculpture’s head or through a concave cavity in the stomach, as is the case here. As vehicles for controlling life forces, these power figures are perhaps the most important objects among the Songye, who live in the southeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The emphasis on the abdomen in these figures has been suggested to indicate their importance in aiding fertility. Roughly carved with a geometric rendering of the face and body, mankishi were commissioned in two basic types—as small, privately owned figures and as large figures for use by the community. Although they can be nonfigurative, the figurative mankishi are carved by sculptors and activated by a ritual specialist (nganga).
Both the scale and the aesthetic qualities of this sculpture indicate that it was a personal nkishi. It stands at about 18 centimeters tall, about mid-range for the personal mankishi examples, the scope of which lies between four and forty centimeters. Whereas the larger community mankishi tend to be stylistically consistent, the personal ones display a variety of aesthetic approaches. This one exhibits 13 copper tacks, malengyela (singular elengyela) inserted into holes on the head and abdomen. There are other holes on the arms and legs of the figure, which most likely were once filled with the dome-shaped nails as well. The carved genitals identify this figure as male. He stands with bent legs on a small circular base. The long splayed fingers resting on the protruding abdomen, in addition to the relatively large scale of the head in proportion to the body, reflects Songye metaphysical belief. Accordingly, the most important part of a human being is the kikudi, or living spirit, which is believed to reside in either the head or the stomach of an individual (see also 1960.906).
- Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Standing Male Figure (Mankishi)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Wood and copper alloy
- H. 17.8 cm (7 in.)
- Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wielgus