Comparative Guts

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Nkisi power figure: ‘Mavungu’

Held in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 1900.39.70. Figure carved of wood and painted, studded with iron nails and implements; a ‘power figure’. [JC 27/9/2001]

Kongo nkisi: nkisi are controversially known as “nail fetishes” and famously trouble the Western concept of “animism” and African religion. The concept of the fetish is in fact not at all “traditional” and emerges from the colonial encounter on the Gold Coast in the 16th century. Nkisi all have powerful substances stored in an orifice in the “belly” of the fetish, and their usage connects with concepts and techniques across Eastern and Southern Africa that focus on the gut as a central site of intervention into wellbeing, personal, collective, and cosmological.