Power Figure, Dog (Nkisi Nkondi, Kozo)

Power Figure, Dog (Nkisi Nkondi, Kozo) ©LCVA

Kongo culture
Democratic Republic of the Congo
wood, mirror, resin, steel, polychrome
10" x 30" x 11.25"
1999.061
Gift of Donna and Thomas L. Brumfield, Jr.

In Greek mythology, Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog, bares his teeth instilling an immobilizing fear in those entering Hades. The Kongo dog (nkisi nkondi, kozo) is a power figure of similar significance layered with attributes to illustrate a tale of cause and effect. In the Kongo culture dogs are hunting companions. Therefore they are seen as different from the hunted wild animals that live in the forest. Kongo cemeteries also are found in the forest. Consequently, dogs have been assigned the symbolic role of mediating between the living and the dead, as well as the seen and the unseen. The two heads on the figure portray this attribute. Containing clay from the cemetery, a resin box topped with a mirror rests on the dog's back. The mirror emphasizes the importance of "seeing" with regard to seeking out evil-doers. The hoe blades signify grievances to be resolved. The phrase nkisi nkodi roughly translates as "a nailed figure containing a powerful force." Kozo is the word for dog.

Bibliography: Cornet, 1978, p.2; Neyt, 1981, p.96; Phillips, 1995, p.244.