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Standing Male Figure (Mankishi)

A work made of wood.

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  • A work made of wood.


Late 19th/early 20th century


Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central Africa

About this artwork

The standing male figure is found throughout Songye statuary art. The mankishi (singular nkishi) served both as community guards and as private devotional objects. The community-based mankishi are generally larger in scale and relatively consistent in their stylistic qualities, whereas the personal ones are quite small—ranging between four and forty centimeters—and are aesthetically diverse. Despite such heterogeneity, there are several features that are nonetheless found in many of the personal mankishi and that are evident in the example here, including a protruding or swollen stomach on which the figure’s hands rest, a large head in relation to the body, and copper or brass nails embellishing the face and head.

This nkishi is barely 16 centimeters in height, but with its powerful expression and the emphasis on the head and abdomen, it appears much larger through its visual impact. The carved genitals indicate that this is a male figure, despite the small breasts. The breasts, in addition to the swollen stomach, may suggest the relevance of these objects to fertility. Alan Merriam has suggested that the explicit carving of genitals may have indicated the desired gender of the owner’s first-born child. These personal sculptures were intimate expressions of individual hopes, anxieties, and life goals. The holes bored into the figure’s face, head, and stomach were most likely plugged with copper or brass nails or tacks, as demonstrated by other examples. The cavity in the stomach was the site for the insertion of medicinal or ritual substances. Once they are commissioned and carved, a ritual specialist called an nganga would activate the mankishi (see also 1957.289).


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Standing Male Figure (Mankishi)


Democratic Republic of the Congo (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.





H.: 15.9 cm (6 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Allen Wardwell

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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