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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Kongo Wooden Nkisi Sculpture of a Double-Headed Alligator
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Kongo Wooden Nkisi Sculpture of a Double-Headed Alligator - PF.4626
Origin: Southwestern Congo/Angola
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11.75" (29.8cm) high x 42.25" (107.3cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Metal

Location: United States
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The nkisi is an extraordinary ritual object used by sorcerers to exorcise spirits. The Kongo people believe spirits inhabit different elements in nature, such as water or trees. Occasionally one of these spirits enters the body of a human being, (where it does not belong!), and illness results. A sorcerer is consulted, and based upon his diagnosis; a nkisi is made to suit the particular malady. Once this is done the patient is covered in red powder, (the color of nkisi spirits) and drinks a potion. If the ritual is successful the spirit leaves the person's body and enters into the nkisi where it remains. Most often the patient became an adherent of the cult.

A nkisi may be fashioned in the shape of an animal, such as this fantastic double-headed alligator, though it does not allude to the actual animal itself. The nails and blades covering its body are intended as "seals of the oath", or a symbolic way of securing the spirit within. There is a protrusion on the back which holds leafs, shells or sachets and is sealed with a mirror. This is the dwelling place of the spirit. The power and presence of this nkisi is immense. With its double heads it seems to be going in two directions at once; both otherworldly in character, and yet quite realistic with the nails imitating the scutes of a crocodile. To make such a work of art required not only the skills of an artist, but also the talents of a sorcerer/healer, who together, created an object that combines mysticism, magic and artistry in a potent mixture.
- (PF.4626)


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