Magic and religion Since the emergence of the study of religion and the social sciencesmagic has been a "central theme in the theoretical literature" produced by scholars operating in these academic disciplines. Bailey describes it, "magic" represents "a deeply contested category and a very fraught label";  the fellow historian Owen Davies stated that the word was "beyond simple definition". These antipathetic sentiments are deeply embedded in Western culture, and the term magic has typically been used to describe non-mainstream beliefs and practices — non-Christians, heretics, non-Westerners, indigenous, ancient or 'primitive' cultures — any that might be considered 'Other. Smith for example argued that it had no utility as an etic term that scholars should use.
These figures are, in effect, vessels for containing spiritual forces. When brought to life, they are believed to have the power to uncover sources of affliction, to heal, to protect, and even to punish. A nkisi begins with a wooden sculpture, often anthropomorphic or zoomorphic in shape.
Once carved, it becomes the responsibility of a ritual specialist, called a nganga, to activate the figure. The nganga fills special cavities in the sculpture, generally in the head and stomach region, with materials such as ash, soil, herbs, and animal parts that are attributed medicinal and magical properties.
In the case of the nkisi seen here, these objects include cloth strips, cowrie shells, beads, rope, and nails. As items are added to the nkisi, it becomes not only more visually complex, but also more powerful. While only the nganga can control the supernatural power of the figure, the larger communities may participate in rituals centered on the nkisi.
Certain minkisi might have specific uses. This particular figure, for instance, is believed to have served in the administration of justice.
Participants in legal proceedings may have pounded in the many nails protruding from the figure either as a means of awakening the spirit within or as testimonials. Nails, which figure prominently in many minkisi, might also represent attempts to drive away destructive forces believed to be the cause of individual ailments or broader social and political ills.African art has developed from ancient traditions.
Generations before the United States and the nations of Europe became great powers, Africa had known the rise and fall of many great kingdoms. The organization, discipline, laws, and religions of these ancient kingdoms show that Africa has been.
The magical power of African Art, illustrated in the nkisi nknode figure is unfamiliar to Westerners because we don't know the context of the art and the intention of the artist. Westerners are interpreting that illustration without any real knowledge of the culture.
Explore the National Museum of African Art with director Gus Casely-Hayford. Discover why you should support the museum in its mission to inspire conversations about the beauty, power, and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide.
Power Figure (Nkisi nkondi)» Yombe artist and ritual specialist, Democratic Republic of Congo Minkisi (singular nkisi), often referred to in English as “power figures,” were made by Kongo people, such as the Yombe, residing in the area now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Peter Crew looked for clues in comparative cultures and found furnaces of a similar design still in use in regions of Africa, indicating a possible link between the prehistoric cultures.
In Kenya, even today, tribal smiths are looked upon in much the same way as ‘witch-doctors’; both feared and revered for . This object, called a boli (pl. boliw), once played a central role in the ritual life of a Bamana village. Such power objects are owned by male initiation associations whose members progress through induction processes that span decades.