Lot 146
  • 146

Songye Female Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo

120,000 - 180,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood, fiber, domestic goat horns, feathers, lizard skin


Lucien Van de Velde, Antwerp
Pierre Dartevelle, Brussels
Didier Claes, Brussels, acquired from the above
Michael Oliver, New York, acquired from the above
Private American Collection, acquired from the above
Michael Oliver, New York, acquired from the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired from the above on May 1, 2012


Tour et Taxis, Brussels, 50e Foire des Antiquaires de Belgique, January 21 - 30, 2005


Didier Claes, 50e Foire des Antiquares de Belgique, Brussels, 2005, p. 268

Catalogue Note

The Songye regarded the wood figural sculpture as merely a shell, activated to full power only by the addition of bishimba, the sacred “medicine” composed of animal, plant, and mineral substances chosen for their magical properties.  These additions could be incorporated as external accessories, packed into cavities or channels in the figures themselves, or bundled into attached pouches or containers.  Some materials are readily recognizable and have direct associations with powerful attributes in the natural world: the feathers of a bird of prey, the scaled skin of a reptile, or the horns of a large mammal.  Others have an unseen symbolic meaning, such as earth from the footprint of an elephant or material from a tree which has been struck by lightning. The forces harnessed by bishimba could be directed maliciously against one’s enemies, or towards a desirable positive outcome.

The present figure is in an exceptional state of preservation.  Most Songye figures which survive were stripped of their external attachments when they entered European collections.  With elements of natural bird, mammal, and reptile material, as well as packed bishimba charges, the Kunin female Songye is one of only a small number of complete nkisi extant, and retains its original sacred magical power.