Nsapo Tribe, DR Congo
Composition: wood (one piece), stain, oils, and some patina encrustation from offerings Dimensions:7.25" (18 cm) Age:late 19th-early 20th century Provenance: Ex. Galerie Philippe Laermans, Brussels (Belgium) Exhibition History: This object was vetted by a committee of tribal art experts and vetted as antique and authentic at BRUNEAF, June 2017 Background on Nkisi Fetish Figures of the Songye: Among the Songye, figural sculptures, mankishi (singular nkishi), are instruments used to bring good fortune, protect, heal, and counteract evil. While a carver produces the wooden figure, a ritual specialist, nganga, adds a multitude of substances and objects that give nkishi its power and enhance its visual impact. Richly personal nkishis like this are imbued with an individualized identity, given a name, and treated as an individual. Historically, the sculptor carved a figure to capture the power of spirits that were necessary for healing, using power, and resolving disputes. The ritual expert, usually a priest, then filled the figures with magical substances, such as dirt from a grave. An Nkisi's supernatural powers would be called upon later to empower those who maintained the oath. In order to empower and stimulate a particular spirit, ritual experts hammered nails, metal shards, and applied materials to a spirits wooden representation. These figures were also used for healing, curing illness and plague, resolving strife (personally or communally), fighting sorcery, and for insuring success in hunting, trading, and sex. Historically, the ritual expert, known as nganga, would attach magically charged materials (such as the feathers atop this piece) to the nkisi in order to activate its power. The Kongo word for “belly” also means “life,” or “soul,” and activating materials were placed inside the sealed compartment there as well. During the 16th century, the Songye migrated from the Shaba area, which is now the southern part of the D.R. Congo, and settled on the left bank of the Lualaba River, on a savannah and forest-covered plateau. Divided into numerous sub-groups, the 150,000 Songye people are governed by a central chief, the Yakitenge, whose role demands that he obey special restrictive laws, such as not showing grief, not drinking in public, and not shaking hands with men. In addition, local rulers, the Sultani Ya Muti, distribute plots of land to their villagers and an influential secret society, Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe, counterbalances their power. Unlike their neighbors, the Luba, the Songye tribe is a patriarchal society in which agriculture is central to the economy (Ref: Bacquart, "Tribal Arts of Africa"; Meyer, "Art and Craft in Africa"; Art and Power in the Central African Savanna, C Petridis, Cleveland Museum of Art).