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Treasure of the month

Crucifix Nkangi kiditu

Culture: Kongo culture, 17th-18th century
Collected: between 1931 and 1941
Former collection of R.L. Wannyn
Material: Copper alloy, wood
Dimensions: H 40 cm.
Inv. no.: HO.1955.9.17

This crucifix was acquired in Gozela (DRC), but it was previously owned by a relative of former Kongo rulers residing in São Salvador (Angola). The piece may have been smelted in Ambrizete or Tomboco (Angola).

During the colonial period (19th-20th century), European administrators, missionaries, or ethnologists noticed that certain Kongo mfumu (chiefs) had impressive crucifixes in their possession. These curious objects, several centuries old, were locally called nkangi kiditu/klistu (‘Christ the protector’). Rather than being found throughout the Kongo, the nkangi kiditu belonged to a few privileged groups that could be traced to the former Kongo kingdom and the ‘county and duchy’ of Soyo and Mbamba, such as the Solongo, Mboma, Mushikongo, and Ndibu.

Relics of a Catholic faith dating back to the first evangelisation of the kingdom (I5th-18th century), these objects were integrated into Kongo philosophy over time and became imbued with the same use normally reserved for other traditional objects of power.
Upon the death of a chief, a nkangi kiditu was solemnly handed over to his successor during a special ceremony, guaranteeing the latter’s legitimacy. The nkangi kiditu could intervene during important debates that required the opinion of the mfumu. The persons involved in the judgment had to touch the mfufu’s crucifix and swear to speak honestly. Nkangi kiditu sometimes had a therapeutic function and could be placed in contact with the ill to aid healing.
A mfumu’s crucifix could also intervene during important ceremonies that involved the relationships between the living and the dead.

This crucifix, along with some forty other objects from the RMCA historical and ethnographic collections, are on display until 02 April 2017 at the Musée du Quai Branly- Jacques Chirac on the occasion of the exhibition "From the Jordan River to the Congo River: Art and Christianity in Central Africa".

Curator Julien Volper: RMCA conservator and lecturer at the Center of Cultural Anthropology (ULB)


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