University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Kongo Nail Figures


By: Amy Ellsworth

19th Century Nail Figures from Zaire. Nkisi N’kondi, Nail Figures, Lower Zaire River Region, Zaire (Kongo), 19th century. Penn Museum Object #s 30-46-2, AF 5361, AF 3684.
19th Century Nail Figures from Zaire. Nkisi N’kondi, Nail Figures, Lower Zaire River Region, Zaire (Kongo), 19th century. Penn Museum Object #s 30-46-2, AF 5361, AF 3684.

Meet the Nkisi Nkondi. These sacred items were carved by the people of the Congo, and used for protecting the village, fighting evil spirits, settling disputes, and sealing agreements. Each nail driven into the figure represents the taking of an oath, the finalization of a contract, or some other situation when the Nkondi’s power was invoked. If the agreement was broken, the Nkondi would would seek revenge and punish the guilty.

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