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Describe how an nkisi nkonde changes over time and becomes a visual record of a community.

  The nkisi nkonde is a specific type of nkisi. What does that mean? I will provide a description of the nkisi nkonde and provide examples of the changes the nkisi nkonde encounters over time. I will explain how the nkisi nkonde becomes a visual record of a community.

  The word nkisi is loosely translated a ‘spirit’ yet it is represented as a container of sacred substances which are activated by a diviner, the person that creates the link from the human world to the supernatural world. The diviner summons supernatural forces into the physical world. The nkisi contains specific items depending on the purpose it was created for. The contents of the nkisi may be a medicinal mixture or bilongo placed inside the nkisi or the bilongos may hang around the neck or waist of the nkisi. The nkisi may serve as a divinatory function in seeking out wrongdoers to punish them for their misdeeds.(1) It embodies the ability to both ‘contain’ and ‘release’ spiritual forces which can have both positive and negative consequences on the community. The plural spelling of nkisi is minkisi.(2) Many minkisi may be at work at the same time in a village.

  These figures are made by the Kongo and Songye peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). (1) A nkisi nkonde is a specific type of nkisi. The nkisi nkonde is bristling with blades, nails, pins, and other sharp objects.(1) These objects are hammered into the nkisi nkonde to mobilize the figures powers. The objects may serve a private or public function. One may be used by a mother to cure a sick child and while a different nkisi nkonde is being used to invoke a specific success venture in life. A nkisi nkonde may act as a peace treaty between two villages. If used as a peace treaty, the nkisi nlonde would remain unchanged from what the two villages agreed upon and remain as long as the treaty was in effect. The nksis nkonde would then serve as a visual reminder to the both villages that the peace treaty had been agreed upon and was still in force. If the peace treaty was dissolved, the nkisi nkonde would be stripped of its pin and nails back to a plain wood figure. At this time the figure could be used for a totally different purpose.

  The nkisi nkonde is an ever changing symbol used to connect humans with the supernatural powers for many purposes. If the nkisi nkonde is serving a long term purpose such as a binding agreement; it will remain unchanged and serve as a visual record for the community.


1. Stokstad, Marilyn and Cothren, Michael 2012, Art, a brief history, Fifth Edition. Pearson Education Inc.

2. David C. Driskell, Michael D. Harris, Wyatt Macgaffey, and Sylvia H. Williams, Astonishment and power, Washington: Published for the National Museum of African Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

Describe how an nkisi nkonde changes over time and becomes a visual record of acommunity.The nkisi nkonde is a type of nkisi which is very specific. What does this really mean?Let me provide a…

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