Friday, December 11, 2009

Congo Nkisi Nail Figures

As part of our unit on the Artist as Peacemaker, children looked at the role that nkisi nail figures play in keeping the peace in the Congo. Nkisi nail figures are made by the Bakongo people of the Congo. The nail figures are made by carvers and shamans. They are used for a variety of purposes. One purpose is to come to and seal agreements between people who are in a disagreement. The people will come to the shaman to settle an argument. The shaman consults the nkisi figure to come to a decision. The people agree and seal their agreement by pounding nails into the nkisi figure, as a promise to follow its wishes. The nkisi figure is thought to be connected to the spirit world and will bring bad luck to those who break the agreement.

After learning about the Congo Nkisi Figures, students made their own figural sculptures, and used them to seal agreements within the class. We also learned a little about Congo.

Try at Home Activities


Food is a wonderful part of a culture. Each class we will give you a culture-specific recipe that you and your children can make at home. It’s fun trying food from all over the world.

Muamba Nsusu (Congo Chicken Soup)
One chicken, cut up large onion, chopped small can of tomato paste

½ cup natural peanut butter cayenne pepper, to taste palm oil rice

Boil chicken in a large pot of water. Remove the chicken from the pot and take the meat off of the bones. Save the broth. Saute onion in palm oil. Combine one cup of chicken broth, peanut butter, and tomato paste. Stir until smooth. Add the chicken meat to the broth mixture. Stir and simmer until thickened. Season to taste. Serve with cooked rice.


Fly Whisk from Congo. Fly whisks are used all over Africa, to help people keep cool and to swat irritating flies. They have grown to become symbols of authority and prestige. Chiefs often own whisks with highly decorated handles that denote their status. Fly whisks are made of various materials. The whisk itself can be made from horse hair, cow hair, feathers, or other natural materials. Handles are often carved from wood, made from leather or wire, beaded, or decorated in some other way.

Lingala Vocabulary
mbote goodbye kende peace kimia

Online activities and resources

Congo Trek: National Geographic Online Adventure

Congo flag and map coloring pages Art


The Magic Tree: A Tale From the Congo, by Gerald McDermott

Song Of The Mermaid: and Other Folk Tales from the Congo by Angele Kadima-Nzuji Kabwasa

The Magic Flyswatter: A Superhero Tale of Africa, Retold from the Mwindo Epic by Aaron Shepard

Mother Leopard and Her Cubs: A Folk Story from the Democratic Republic of Congo, by Jill Rutter and Fiona Macintosh


Bombenga and Vox Africa, Naluki yo Trop Elodie

Around Town

The Field Museum of Natural History has a nkisi in their Africa exhibit, along with an informative video about the use of the nkisi figure.