Fetish figure ”Nkisi kozo”
Bakongo-people, Democratic Republic of Congo, 20th century, private collection from France.
These gorgeous wooden figures of a dog are called nkisi kozo. A nkisi is loosely translated as a ”spirit” yet it is container of sacred substances which are activated by supernatural forces that can be summoned into the physical world. Kozo means dog. The primary function of nkisi kozo is to be the home of spirit which can travel out from its base, hunt down and harm other people.
The Bakongo-peoples believe the dog is a mediator between the living and deceased because it lives in the villages of the living, but hunts in the forest where the dead are buried. When a nkisi kozo is shown with two heads, it can be translated as having four eyes, giving it capasity to see both the visible forces in this world and the invisible forces in the other, mediating between the world of living and of the dead. Because of their ability to transverse between worlds, nkisi kozo figures are used for identification of witches and wrongdoers. They are also believed to control the sexuality of women.
Nkisi kozo are carved under the divine authority and in consultation with an Nganga or spiritual specialist who activates these figures through chants, prayers and the preparation of sacred substances which are aimed at ”curing” physical, social or spiritual ailments. The nganga gathers materials, called bilongo (medicine), which when assembled, will become the home of the spirit. The most common place for storage bilongo are the back of the figure where it’s hidden under resin-fixed mirrors. The glass or mirror represents the ”other world” and the reflective surface enabled the nkisi to see in the spirit world in order to spy out its prey.
To drive the nkisi into action, nganga diviners must invoke and provoke the spirit that resides in the figure. Gunpowder is first exploded in front of the figure to annoy and arouse the nkisi into action. Nails and metal blades are then hammered in the figure to make spirit angry towards the clients enemy for the wounds inflicted on its body. The nails are also used as a symbol of the pain the nkisi must inflict on the specified target. This process of nkisi kozo provocation and invocation is known as koma loko (meaning ”to nail a curse”).
This nkisi kozo are just gorgeous. A large double headed dog stands in all four feet. There are attached several rusty nails and sharp metal blades. Pack of medicines (bilongo) on the back of the figure, covered by resin and mirror. There are dirt from graveyard (mpemba) on the surface of figure. Good condition. Traces of ritual use over many years. Dirt and dust. Size approx. 55cm x 30cm x 26cm.