African Minkisi and American Culture Essay

6248 Words25 Pages
African Minkisi and American Culture

I. Introduction
African Minkisi have been used for hundreds of years in West Central Africa, This area where they are traditionally from was once known as the kingdom of Kongo, when Europeans started settling and trading with the BaKongo people. Kongo was a well-known state throughout much of the world by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The BaKongo, however, had probably long used minkisi before ethnographers and anthropologists ever recorded them. Minkisi are complex items that are used to heal and to harm people, and there is no equivalent term for nkisi in any European language. A seventeenth century Dutch geographer first wrote of the nkisi, and said that,
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To understand the people, you also must first understand their worldviews, their history, religion, economic conditions, how advanced their scientific knowledge was, etc. By learning about this one item used in Kongo culture, I have learned an enormous amount about the Kongo culture and the BaKongo, and have come to a new level of awareness about material culture.

The goals of this paper have changed throughout the course of my research. At first, I didn’t even know what an nkisi was, let alone did I know where I wanted to go with this paper. After doing my research though, I have decided against a paper completely focused on original ideas. Instead, my goal of this paper is to use the things that I learned in our anthropology class, and apply them to minkisi. By applying the things I have learned in the readings from our class, I have learned a lot more about minkisi than I could ever gain by just reading a few books. I will especially focus on the works of Deetz, Vlach, and the authors about folk objects. I will also focus on what we talked about in class about “usable truth” when referring to objects associated with slave resistance.

The first conclusion I have come to during the course of my research, is that I don’t know how anybody could reduce African religion to being anything less than complicated. At first the minkisi seem “savage”. “Until quite recently, our (the Western world) response to

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