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Nkisi Ndoki

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A traditional Congolese Nkisi Ndoki statue.
A traditional Congolese Nkisi Ndoki statue.
A Nkisi Ndoki is a physical manifestation of one of the spirits or deities of religious traditions of central Africa, or of any personal, tutelary, or familiar spirit or spirit-guide or ancestral figure, crafted into in the form of a human or an animal, which typically contains and is empowered by the ashes of an ancestor's bones.

The word nkisi refers to a spirit. The plural of nkisi is minkisi.

The word ndoki means one who practices witchcraft, spell-casting, or sorcery (kunda), a person who may stand in contradistinction to the office of a village priest or nganga. (The plural of ndoki is kindoki; the plural of nganga is kinganga.)

Ndoki can perform either harmful magic (sometimes called "night ndoki" or "eating ndoki" -- kindoki kia dia) or supportive magic ("protective kindoki" or "day kindoki" -- kindoki kia lunda).

Ndoki magic can be performed both by human beings and by spirits, but for the most part the word refers to the work of spell-casters operating within their own clans and villages.

A nkisi ndoki is a spirit embodied in a statue or fetish, which is used by a sorcerer to harm enemies or to break malevolent spells and to protect clients and ward off evil in a village or community setting. At its front is the mooyoo, a container of magical power, typically the ashes of human bones.

The carved wood nkiski ndoki shown here is a protective one. Its mooyoo contains the ashes of a protective ancestor's bones. The iron nails and blades driven into this nkisi represent oaths or magical spells which have been performed by the ndoki for the purpose of protection from evil. Its raised open right hand originally held an iron-tipped spear, now missing, with which it would have warded off all threats to those under the ndoki's protection.

Another popular type of nkisi ndoki is the mangaaka figure, in which the mooyoo is that of an ancestral tribal leader and the statue represents a kingly figure of justice. The iron blades and nails embedded into a nkisi ndoki mangaaka statue document tribal legal matters, such as the sealing of vows, the signing of treaties, and the settling of boundary disputes.

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