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Songye Double Headed Figure
Carved figures such as this example were central to the life of Songye and Kongo communities spread over a vast territory in east-central Democratic Republic of the Congo. Acting as intercessors between ancestral spirits and the living, Nkisi were intended to benefit the entire community and were not the property of a single individual. The creation of a Nkisi was a public event that brought together the community, a skilled carver and experienced nganga (medicine man/shaman.) Chiefs and elders commissioned the Nkisi and both the carver and the nganga had to be well established in their respective professions. The latter decided on the nkisi’s features and type of wood to be used, often selected for its curative or toxic properties or for being associated with certain ancestral contexts. Once the wooden form was carved, the nganga assembled the bishimba, powerful matter made of animal, plant, and mineral substances. The addition of this sacred matter allowed the nkisis to become a conduit for spiritual forces.
Once completed, the nkisi was kept in a special enclosure positioned in a highly visible location, such as the centre of the village or near the chief’s house. It was cared for by a guardian who also served as an interpreter for the nkisi whose messages were received through dreams or spirit possession. Collective consultations occurred following specific dreams and recurrently during celebrations related to the appearance of the new moon – an essential symbol of new life, fertility, and wealth associated with the human life-cycle. On those occasions, the nkishi was taken out of its enclosure to be recharged by the moon’s life-force.
The mirror’s embedded into the torso’s of the two figures are typical of Songye/Kongo art and are believed to ‘reflect’ any evil forces away from the village. The double headed carving is an indication that the nkisi is simultaneously looking into the land of the living and the land of the ancestors.
Size: 300mm x 120mm x 100mm
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