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Between and Mortarboard

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Power Figure

Accession Number

Power Figure

Vili (Kongo)

Artist Nationality

Object Creation Date
circa 1850

Medium & Support
wood, iron nails, blades and fragments, and fiber cord

40 3/4 in x 13 3/4 in x 10 1/16 in (103.5 cm x 35 cm x 25.5 cm);40 3/4 in x 13 3/4 in x 10 1/16 in (103.5 cm x 35 cm x 25.5 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
An nkisi is a spirit personality or force with the power to harm, heal or protect. It was summoned by a medicinal specialist or nganga, who used figures such as this to materialize the nkisi, make it approachable, and activate its powers. The nkondi (meaning "hunter") was the most aggressive and feared type of nkisi, which used its clairvoyance and powers of destruction to hunt down and punish witches, criminals, and other wrong-doers. By pounding a blade or nail into its body, the nganga activated the nkondi, and sent it on its nocturnal pursuit. The nkondi’s other job was to witness the taking of oaths and bind individuals to their word. Blades were driven into the figure to “seal” a pact or treaty that was made in its presence. Any person who failed to respect such an agreement would suffer the nkondi’s violent retribution.

Physical Description
Wood-carved, standing male figure 40 inches in height. Its shoulders and torso are impaled with iron blades, nails and fragments. The torso is long, arms at side are bent at elbow and hands rest on lower abdomen. The right wrist wears a bracelet with attachments. The legs are truncated, with twisted metal anklet on right foot. The face is naturalistic, the mouth slightly open, the nose long and narrow with slightly flared nostrils. Eyes are almond shaped, may have had inlay that is now gone. The top of the head shows a tiered, "layer cake like" coiffure. The figure has a long and deep crack down the entire length of its left side, from top of the head to the left ankle.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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blades (tool and equipment components)

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& Author Notes

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