Mankishi (sing. nkishi), containers for potent medicines that protect families or individuals against sorcery, malevolent spirits, and diseases are said to be more important to the Songye peoples than are ancestor figures, which serve as vessels for the spirits of their ancestors. Songye mankishi are made in a variety of sizes according to their use, either personal or communal, and are figurative and nonfigurative. Figurative mankishi are carved by sculptors and activated by a ritual specialist (nganga) who places potent medicine in an animal horn inserted into the nkishi's head, into a pouch worn by the figure, or directly into the nkishi's head or abdomen. They were named and their reason for existence defined.
This rare female nkishi carries a pouch containing medicine around her waist. It is similar to one in the Barbier-Mueller Collection and probably originated in the same workshop of the northern Belande.(24)
24. Neyt, François. Arts traditionnelles et histoire au Zaire: Cultures forestières et royaumes de la savane / Traditional Arts and History of Zaire: Forest Cultures and Kingdoms of the Savannah. Trans. Scott Bryson. Brussels: Société d’Arts Primitifs; Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Institut Supérieur d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de l’Art, 1981. pp. 308-309, plate 20.