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Yaka or Suku Female Fetish Figure

Yaka or Suku Female Fetish Figure

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Yaka or Suku peoples, early 20th century, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Exceptional, rare and interesting wooden female fetish figure stands in a frontal position. The figure displays a characteristically Suku or Yaka columnar-shaped body with a vertical scarifications and a small carved cavity in her chest to receive the magical ingredients. The cavity in the chest is empty. The long tubular arms bent and the small hands rest on chest upon the slightly bulging abdomen. Lower torso with the distinct horizonal ridge. Short, bent and apart, the bulky legs step with large feet on a circular shallow plinth carved continuous with the rest. The magical material, with which the ritual expert has charged up this figure of power, consists of two animal tails, attached with vegetal fiber to the coiled bronze ring that has been fasten firmly around the figure's neck. Painted a thin layer of white pigment or kaolin, her mesmerizing visage features a prominent ears, small slit mouth, a triangular nose, and a pair of glass inserted eyes, encompassed by an incised white outline, perhaps representing face paint. Such figures served as containers (n'kisi) for protective magical power exercised by the ritual experts (nganga), or official practitioner against illness, to avenge sorcery and control evil influences of a curse and its hereditary effect. Yet at the same time it can be used to protect property and inflict injuries on witches or other malefactors. The majority of the Yaka figures are associated with Mbwoolo-Tchio shrines/shelters. Important magical ingredients or medicines are suspended from the figure's arms in the small bundles or pouches, or more rarely, are inserted into a small ventral cavity. Charged with these ingredients they become "medicines-poisons" (n'kisi). Their purpose is multi-functional, they can cause the illness and "make-ill" (kukwatn) through an invisible influence, or be protective, and "make-well" (kubuka) by removing this influence.

Excellent condition. Layered and encrusted surface patina suggesting genuine age and ritual use. Traces of magical ingredients. Old collection label on the backside. Size approx. 19,5cm x 5,3cm x 4,3cm (excluding the modern stand).


From the estate of Jan Ölander, Sweden. From 1984 to 1987, Jan Ölander served as the Swedish ambassador to Zambia and Malawi. 

Former Otis Diallo collection.

References and further reading:

Art of the Yaka and Suku, Arthur Bourgeois, Published by Meudon, Alain et Françoise Chaffin, 1984.

Magical Statuettes and their Accessories Among the Eastern Bayaka and their Neighbors (Belgian Congo), Hugo Huber, Anthropos 51 (1956): 264-90.

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