How the Congo nkisi became dominant in southern America
In west-central African lore, Nkisi, or nkishi, called minkisi when addressing the plural of it, is any object or material substance invested with sacred energy and made available for spiritual protection. The Kongo people of west-central Africa, are one who traditionally believe in Nkisi, one of their traditions holds that the god Funza gave the world the first Nkisi.
Nkisi. is created from vessels and sculptures of ceramic, cloth, wood, or other material. They contain spiritually charged substances such as soil, clay, animal horns, shells, gourds, or relics from a grave used to heal and defend against spiritual maladies. The powers of the dead are infused in the object allows the nganga to control it. These substances mentioned above are called medicines, Nkisi is the Kongolese word for sacred medicine. There are metal objects commonly pounded into the surface of these power figures, and it represents the minkisi’ active roles during ritual or ceremony. Each nail or metal piece pounded into them represents a vow, a signed treaty, and efforts to abolish evil. Ultimately, these figures most commonly represent reflections on socially unacceptable behaviors and the efforts to correct them.
Nkisi is usually created by a nganga. A nganga is a spiritual healer, diviner, and mediator, who draws power for the already created Nkisi from the bakisi, messengers from the spirit world. After that, he will inscribe cosmograms—symbols on the surface that may come in the form of puns or symbols, symbols like the sign of the four moments of the sun, and a cross with circles on the ends.
Central Africans who were adopted during the Atlantic slave-trade era tried their best to hold on to their beliefs and, thus, carried with them some knowledge of nkisi making. In places they were sailed to throughout the United States, African descendants still created and made minkisi. Nkisi making is also found throughout the Caribbean and South America, in places such as Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil.
Nkisi has many functions that are intertwined. It’s used basically to effect healing. It is also used to search for the spiritual and physical source of sickness and get rid of it from the body. It’s also used as a preventive measure; spiritual leaders use it to protect the human soul and guard it against disease and illness. They may use it to bind its owner to a friend or to attract lovers. Nkisi is also used to serve as a charm to repel enemies, arrest them in their abode, or inflict illness on them. Alternatively, Nkisi can be used to embody and direct a spirit; similarly, it is used as a hiding place for a troubled soul.
There are other forms of Nkisi, including the nkonde or nkondi, the figurines that contain ‘medicine’ in the lower belly region, indicated by a mirror. Nails or similar objects are driven into the figure activate the nkondi’s powers; it’s called nail fetish; this form of Nkisi are considered aggressive.