Minkondi in pairs
Minkondi often took the form of a pair of figures, husband and wife. Makundu Tito, writing from an inland station about another nkondi, not
Mabyaala, explained the principle of association between the male and the female and indicated the kind of powers that were characteristic
of all minkondi.

The powers of the male are more vigorous, but the female softens them. If they were two males, many houses would be burned by the
storm. If the nkisi is being carried in a bag and the sky darkens, they do not continue to wherever they were going. If they are already en
route, they cover the nkisi with a dark cloth and prepare a medicine to pacify the road where they are going so that no great storm shall kill
any of them. They continue with the medicine until they come to a place where they can sacrifice a chicken. If they do not do this they will
not get there, because the storm stirred up by Nkondi will kill them on the way. But with the pacifying medicine Nkondi will not be angry and
will not cause rain. (Makundu, Cahier 258)

An example of the wife of Mabyaala is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden (seen directly below). Obviously, it
was carved by a hand other than the one responsible for our example of Mabyaala himself, so the two do not belong to an original set.
Devoid of bristling nails, the highly finished surface of, her skin complementing a marvelously naturalistic pose and an appealing face, the
wife is exquisitely feminine, scarcely to be associated with the terrifying violence of thunderstorms. She carries a child on her arm to show
that she is a married woman.

When they carve figures they make some of them look like males, shaping them like men and putting beards such as men have, so that it
shall he known that this is a man. Other figures are of girls, shaped according to their loveliness and beauty, with scarification such as girls
have. Others represent mothers of children and are shown with a child on the back the way women carry them; when people see it, with the
child on the hack, they know, this is a married woman. (Nsemi, Cahier 394)

Minkondi often had important functions related to maternity, as well as to retributive violence. This apparent paradox is repeated
throughout Central Africa, in which controlled, public violence is believed to make possible fecundity and prosperity.
Nkondi is also used to bring out [that is, to end the seclusion of a woman who has given birth. If a woman was treated with this nkisi while
she was pregnant, when she has given birth she summons the nganga to "make her stand up," that is, to show her the paths she may walk;
if not, the child cannot be strong, for they might walk into a pit trap. The standing up is as follows: the nganga treats the child and the
mother and bounces the child above his nkisi. When he has done so, he takes the mother by the little finger, with fermpidi basket on her
head and the child, and they go to the crossroads, singingE, nsongi, nsongi nzila! "Theguide, who shows the way." Afterward they drink
palm wine and the nganga asks for his fee. (Lunungu, Cahier 159)

From: Astonishment & Power - The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi
Before 1885 BaKongo, Cabinda
Wood, glass, other materials H. 15 in. (38 cm)
Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden. The Netherlands. 2668-2101
Nkisi Mabyaala Ma Ndembe
Before 1894 - BaKongo, Loango, Congo
Wood, iron, fiber
Height 27.5 inches (70 cm)
Museum voor Volkenkunde, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 4795

In several accounts, Mabyaala ma Ndembe is mentioned as one of the most important minkisi in the coastal regions at the end of the
nineteenth century. What was it? Museums commonly show a single figure labeled nkisi so-and-so, but originally the material apparatus of an
important nkisi included a number of pieces, often a pair of statues, male and female, a bag of medicines, a number of amulets and various
other pieces of the ngangas equipment. It is possible to assemble from different museums a number of objects attributed to Mabyaala,
although they did not originally belong to the same set.

A Mabyaala in the Museum voor Volkenkunde, Rotterdam, is in the form of a male figure with crudely carved arms and with hands clasped on
the belly. The raised arm carrying a knife or spear, seen in many minkondi, is not a feature of this one. The medicine pack on the belly has
survived, but another has been lost from the top of the head. The face, strongly and carefully carved by comparison with the rest of the figure,
has been invaded by nails to a greater extent than usual. As is often the case, the figure's expression, instead of being aggressive, conveys a
serenity that contrasts with and seems to transcend the violence of the nailing.

Although the hardware is often imported, these nails seem rather to be mostly of local manufacture; BaKongo made nails from the seventeenth
century onward. The extent of splitting of the wood of the left arm suggests that many nails were inserted and later withdrawn when the
missions with which they were associated were deemed to have been accomplished. Practice in this regard varied from region to region, or
perhaps from nkondi to nkondi; the most common practice seems to have been to leave the nails in. Mabyaala is provided with his own musical
instruments in the form of basketry rattles.

An account in an 1893 Dutch missionary bulletin tells us how this Mabyaala was ultimately stolen. "This fetish was held in such high esteem
that it might only be transported in a hammock, and the Blacks obstinately refused to give it up to Europeans except for a very high price.
Later, French soldiers seized it and gave it to a traveler, who sold it to our Rotterdam friends" (Nederlandsche Zendingsvereeniging
Zendingsblaadje no. 234, November 6, 1893, 7).

From: Astonishment & Power - The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi
Rand African Art
home page

Nkisi/Nkondi main page - to see more examples and additional information

CLICK HERE to go to the article
Kongo Nail Fetishes from the Chiloango River Area
By Ezio Bassani

It has a lot of additional examples and information

My comparison page I am working on
The link above will take you to a couple of pages I am working on that show bad examples of these figures and then good examples of these figures.