Generally carved in the shape of human beings, minkondi
were sacred objects. A nail figure's power came from spirits that
were attracted to ritual substances such as
herbs, animal bones, fur, and seeds. These substances were placed
in a cavity cut into the figure's head or stomach. A religious specialist,
who was also a healer and a legal expert, determined the nature
of these substances.
Each of the nails driven into the figure represents the taking
of an oath, the witnessing of an agreement, or some other occasion
when the power of the figure was invoked. On special occasions the
nkisi nkondi was brought outside in a public setting where
judicial procedures took place. The parties
involved came before the figure with the specialist, and together
they investigated the problem at hand. When an agreement was to
be made, representatives from both parties took an oath in front
of the nkisi nkondi. The oath was then sealed by driving
a nail or other sharp metal object into the figure to activate its
power. This act was similar to the Western tradition of signing
Minkondi were considered to be executors of a system
of justice as well as guardians and friends. They healed or protected
the innocent, punished or killed the guilty, and wrought revenge
on those who broke their oaths.
Despite its small size, this figure seems very imposing with nails
and blades studding its surface. The head is finely carved. The
open mouth shows that the figure is ready to speak on behalf of
The figure stands in a pose of challenge and authority, with its
left hand resting on its hip, and its right arm raised to hold a
weapon (which is missing). A mirror covers the figure's stomach,
sealing the rectangular container that holds substances believed
to have strong religious powers. The eyes are also made of mirrors.
These mirrors reflected the faces of those who stood before the
figure, showing that the spirit was keeping watch on their every
philosophical study that explores questions about "what is art?"
or "what is beauty?"
to citizenship or the public affairs of a community.
to the system of laws and justice in a community.
ritual--A ceremonial act
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