Yiteke Charm Figure

Object Title: Yiteke Charm Figure

Materials: Wood, horn, mirror, pigment, fiber

Country: Democratic Republic of Congo

Cultural: Yaka

Date Created: 1st Half of 20th Century

The Yaka inhabit the area from the confluence and headwaters of the Kwilu and Kwango rivers to the North, roughly to the Kwilu River by the Angolan Border in the South, and Eastward along the bounds of the Kwango.

Figural sculpture is not uncommon, but it is created in a number of different contexts primarily related to healing. The majority of carved figures are made by five of the twenty-two Yaka healing associations. These associations are generally seen as ‘lineage curse’ societies as they are chiefly concerned not with contemporaneous witchcraft or curses on the individual but instead focus on the afflicted person’s ancestral matrilineal or patrilineal line. These healing societies were each concerned with different health aspects (Khita for infertility; Mbwoolo for muscle disabilities, Ndzaambi for loss of male vitality. etc..)  and each had their own diviners and curative charms – seventeen of them producing wrapped packets with medicines, horns filled with magical substances and bowls or calabashes or small bamboo containers rather than figural sculpture.

The Ross figure is large and extremely well-carved. It appears to be Northern Yaka and the holes in the hollows of the arms indicate that charm packets that contained medicines were once attached to the sides of the figure. It is unusual, though not unique, to find a horn atop the head. In the case of the Ross figure, it’s impossible to know with certainty which of the five societies concerned with healing that utilized figural sculpture created it. In two cases, miniatures with twisted or vestigial bodies, or specifically large Janus figures or paired figures may indicate an origin with the Khosi society. The gesture of the hands to the chest of the Ross example indicates a conciliatory admission of sin, though what it specifically meant in this context is impossible to know.


Exhibition History:

In Memoriam – Bonnie Terrill Ross (1956-2022). New York: QCC Art Gallery of CUNY, October 12, 2023, to February 16, 2024.