Power Figure, Nkisi



Power Figure, Nkisi


Effigy, fetish, sculpture


late 19th-early 20th Century


Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo


Wood, brass, bone, incrustation
9 x 2 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (22.9 x 5.7 x 7 cm)

Object Number



Power figures (pl. minkisi/mankisi) are found in many cultures of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These figures are usually male, and were used to contact benevolent spirits in the hope of curing illness, infertility, or other maladies. Various substances with magical properties, called bishimba, were placed inside cavities in the stomach or head of the figure to enhance its power. Local diviners were entrusted with the creation of the bishimba. Many of these figures are adorned with raffia, beads, and even ceremonial dress in an effort to increase the magical properties they possess. Often these additional adornments of cloth and beads are removed before the figure changes ownership due to the importance of the powerful embellishments in the figure's ability to function magically. This is why many figures no longer have beads and clothing when they arrive in the West.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011
Michael C. Carlos Museum Handbook (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 1996), 112.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Michael McKelvey.
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On View



“Power Figure, Nkisi,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 16, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7971.

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