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Standing Male Figure (Mankishi)

A work made of wood and copper alloy.

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  • A work made of wood and copper alloy.

Date:

Late 19th/early 20th century

Artist:

Songye
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central Africa

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).

Status

Currently Off View

Department

Arts of Africa

Culture

Songye

Title

Standing Male Figure (Mankishi)

Origin

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Date

1875–1925

Medium

Wood and copper alloy

Dimensions

H. 17.8 cm (7 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wielgus

Reference Number

1957.289

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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