Power Object, Nkisi



Power Object, Nkisi


Adornment, amulet, fetish, fiber


before 1935


Central Africa, Democractic Republic of the Congo, Ekaya


Fiber, animal horn, metal
2 11/16 x 1 5/16 in. (3.3 x 6.9 cm)

Object Number



Power objects, generically referred to as nkisi (pl. minkisi/mankisi), are a common feature of many cultures of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nkisi were used by diviners and healers to contact benevolent spirits in the hope of curing illness, infertility, or other maladies. The efficacy of nkisi derives from combinations of empowering substances, called bishimba. Substances, such as clay, vegetable matter, stones, fur, seeds, and horns were combine. Formulas according to which bishimba are assembled effects a mystical reaction, bringing spirit forces into play with the physical world.

Nkisi take many forms, from human figures to horns, bracelets, necklaces, pendants like this one, and even "nails". This object was collected in the town of Eyaka in former Zaire by Reverend J.H. Maw some time before 1935. Maw commissioned many pieces, and documented their method of manufacture and purpose as forms of bwanga (medicine). While some were designed to remedy existing problems, such as infertility, spasms, or insanity, lack of appetite, social discord with neighbors, or run-ins with state officials, others were commissioned to preempt potential problems revealed to a client through portentous dreams.

Credit Line

Gift of Rev. J.H. Maw


Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2010.
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On View



“Power Object, Nkisi,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed March 18, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/6718.

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