Fetishes, also known as Nkisi or Nkondi, are figures invested with magical powers widely used in many parts of Africa to this day. They are crafted on commission by the Nganga (a healer-sage) for a customer’s specific concerns and to resolve all kinds of problems. Once the figure has been carved, its belly is filled with animal and vegetable materials believed to have magical properties. After sealing it well, nails are run into the figure to charge and activate it. The figure may also sport various fragments of mirrors, meant to give it additional power to avert negative forces. When fully formed and activated, the fetish is inhabited by a magical spirit (Nkisi) who has a specific purpose and specific powers (Nkondi), which may be positive or negative in nature. The figures offer protection from sorcery and witchcraft. They are meant to ensure fertility, avert diseases and misfortune or, if they have been charged with negative energy, to wreak havoc. Fetishes are also frequently used as visual objects to assist the closing of a deal between contractual parties. The negative powers of a fetish are believed to be able to harm or even kill a human being.
The spiritual and religious specialists (Nganga) employ these figures to ensure law and order in a community. They can thereby become a village’s guardians, legal experts, healers or ruthless avengers.