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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]


Minkisi are divided into two domains: those pertaining to the above (ku zulu, or sky and celestial waters) and those pertaining to the below(ku nsi, or the earth and the terrestrial waters.) This is best explained by a table:

Body..............Minkisi of the above target the head and the upper-body, and aim to cause headaches or chest pains.Minkisi of the below relate to sexual desire, childbearing and stomach sicknesses.
World............When minkisi pertain to the above symbolically, they belong to the ku zulu, or sky or celestial waters.Minkisi of the below have the earth and terrestrial waters as their domain.

Functions of minkisi:

Different examples of Minkisi:

This Nkisi is unusual in that its wood is finely polished, and that no nails or heavy materials cover the body. Strong colors decorate the woman's body, her necklace is red and they eyes are colored. The body form is highly representative of a woman's body, and her facial features are highly detailed. The child she carries on her hip indicates that she is a married woman.

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*Mbumba Maza (before 1933): The sea shells attached to this spectacular Nkisi indicate that it belongs to the Minkisi of the Below, and specifically pertains to water. The pot attached to the Nkisi would be covered in medicine which a client would lick before embarking on a journey to invoke the spirits. The body is not closely defined here, although the face is. This Nkisi is very ornate, and its striking visual appearance contributed to making it very important.

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With what purpose is a Nkisi used in the modern world?:

Voodoo doll:

There is no book of rules for types of Voodoo dolls-- each is created inidividually based on a person's request or inspiration from a Voodoo spirit. However, the only clear distinction between Voodoo dolls, anthropologically speaking, is the difference between the sympathetic and the homeopathic doll. In terms of their function, dolls can be separated into the four categories previously mentionned; Love, Power and Domination, Luck and Finance, and Uncrossing.

Sympathetic: The sympathetic doll reflects the targeted person by resembling it.

Homeopathic: The homeopathic doll reflects the targeted person because an intimate aspect of the person is attached to it, often with the use of pins. Contrary to much popular assumption, the pins are not usually used to inflict harm on a person. Strands of hair or pieces of paper with the name of the person are most commonly used.

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Love: According to Jerry Gandolfo, the curator and creator of the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 90% of Voodoo dolls are used to ask for help in love. The most common change sought is the return of a lover. Second come requests to keep a lover or spouse emotionally and physically faithful. Desires to separate a couple are the third most common request.

Power and Domination: Requests for these types of dolls come most often from people involved in competition and winning-- athletes and lawyers are common examples. This category is the one most often used for negative means, Gandolfo explained. "One may wish to lame a physical opponent or disorient a professional one. One may wish bad luck on the opposition more readily than wishing extra luck on themselves. If a poor person seeks help for a relative in legal trouble where the deck is already stacked against them, this would not be considered an evil intention. If, however, one simply wishes a misfortune against a coworker in order to gain an advantage in a potential promotion, this would be considered evil."

Luck and Finance: This sometimes concerns personal finances, but is often used to produce succesful gambling.

Uncrossing: This is a type of meta-Voodoo, when one person tries to undo the Voodoo that was inflicted on him or her. The aim is usually not to destroy the offensive gris-gris, but rather to return it to its creator. However, if they refuse to stop the Voodoo, greater powers can be invoked to destroy the gris-gris.

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