• A comparison of the anthropomorphic Vodun power-figure (West African bocio/bo/vodu/tro) with its Kongo counterpart (Central African nkisi)

    Lloyd Graham (see profile)
    African History, Anthropology
    Magic, Ethnology, Africa, Area studies, Vodou, Art, African
    Item Type:
    Kongo religion, bocio, nkisi, figurine, Ethnography, Cultural anthropology, African studies, Vodun, African art
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    This paper compares anthropomorphic power-figures from the Vodun and Kongo cultural areas. Vodun is practised along the Guinea Coast of West Africa (especially in Benin and Togo) whereas the Kongo religion is native to the west coast of Central Africa (especially the two Republics of the Congo and northwest Angola). First, overlaps in belief and praxis between the Vodun and Kongo religions are highlighted. Second, similarities are identified in the design and significance of anthropomorphic Vodun power-figures, especially Fon bocio and Ewe bo/vodu/tro(n), and their Kongo counterparts – minkisi, and especially minkondi, which are better known in the West as “nail fetishes.” The disturbing appearance of the figurines, the ritual operation of features such as pegs/padlocks, nails/blades, bonds/sutures and magical/medicinal material (Kongo bilongo) are treated in detail. Activation and appeasement by sacrificial blood, alcoholic drink and coloured dyes are also considered. The analysis ends with a broad intercultural comparison which ranges from ancient Egyptian belief to the art of Polish surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński, encompassing en route the zār cult and the Polynesian tiki. Overall, the study finds that the Vodun bocio/bo/vodu/tro(n) has much in common with the Kongo nkisi nkondi, the two sharing notable similarities in purpose, construction and operation. One difference, however, is that large Kongo minkondi used to serve as archival repositories of a community’s oaths, treaties and petitions, a commemorative role seemingly not shared by Vodun power-figures.
    Additional tags: Vodun, Vodou, Kongo, bocio, bochio, botchio, bo, vodu, tro, tron, nganga, nkisi, minkisi, nkondi, minkondi, nkonde, nail fetish, bilongo, pegs, nails, padlocks, zar cult, Beksiński, Beksinski, tiki, Afro-Caribbean religions, voodoo, Palo Monte, Palo Mayombe, Suzanne Preston Blier, Wyatt MacGaffey
    Published as:
    Online publication    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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