Above: A dancer possessed by animist spirits in West Africa.

Every time you disturb reality, nature has to balance it out.” — Kim Harrison

BELOW: a nkisi n'kondi fetish doll, found in West Africa and the central Congo region. The wooden doll, 20-36 inches [50-90 cm] tall, is believed to have supernatural powers, in particular power over others.

In anthropology, fetishism is defined as the emic (from within the social group) attribution of inherent value or powers to an object. In this case, the doll is placed in or directly outside the home and with every wish for protection or for harm to another, a nail is driven into the doll's body. Chicken blood and other liquids are poured over it, creating an incrustation. These dolls are known for their pungent, smoky odor and many people sense a malevolent ambience.  

Totemic substances know as bilongo were stored inside the doll's head or more often in a cavity in its midsection. This was covered by a piece of glass or mirror so that the spirits of the dead can peer through and observe. 

Up until the 20th century these dolls were frequently encountered but many were seized by missionaries as evidence of sorcery. They are the origin of the dolls used in voodoo rituals. [By Paris A. Walker]


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A nkisi bumba fetish. These are made from primate skulls (monkey, gorilla, chimpanzee or lemur). Nkisi means magic, and bumba signifies a ball or box for medicine, or in its verb form it means "to reap". Yombe people, Democratic Republic of Congo.

An ancestor skull relic of the Fon ethnic group of Benin, collected between 1960-70.

Another  nkisi bumba  of the Villi and Yombé peoples of Congo. It's a gorilla skull set in clay in a woven basket. This  nkisi  (magic charm) is used as a social regulator, therapeutic object and also as a trap to block evil spells.

Another nkisi bumba of the Villi and Yombé peoples of Congo. It's a gorilla skull set in clay in a woven basket. This nkisi (magic charm) is used as a social regulator, therapeutic object and also as a trap to block evil spells.

A man transfigured in trance during the Hauka ceremony, a form of resistance against European colonial power which involved mimicry and theft of life force.

Above: Vaudou trance ritual in West Africa.

Trophy head covered in clay and human skin and hair. Collected in 1980 in southeast Nigeria. Height: 10 in (25 cm). Weight: 5.4 lbs (2,430 grams).

A human head dance crest of the Ekoi/Boki headhunters of northern Cameroon and Nigeria. They are also known as the Ejagham culture. 20th century.

A nkisi from Cross River area of Cameroon/Nigeria. This head was sold at auction in Germany. The skin was claimed to be antelope stretched over wood, with real teeth. Mid-20th century.

A show by vaudou practitioners in Akbanakin, Togo.

A monkey-head scepter of the Bulu of Cameroon. Ca. 1950. Height: 12.5 in (32 cm).

A hunter's basket of the Bulu tribe of Cameroon, adorned with monkey skulls and carrying charms of the ngil ritual. Height: 13.7 inches (35 cm).

A ngil monkey skull crest mask of the Bulu, who live in the frontier region of Cameroon and Gabon.

Voodoo initiates in Benin.

A  vaudou  priest at a festival in Benin in 2018.

A vaudou priest at a festival in Benin in 2018.

Benin, West Africa. The bopa dah tofa voodoo master showing skulls of criminals killed by Heviosso, the god of thunder, that he collects.

Listen to drum music from an African voodoo ceremony:

Devotees in a sacred forest in Togo.

Scene from the video: dancer in a trance in the shrine.

A child's skull used in the divination rituals of the Ada tribe of Togo and Benin. It is accompanied by prayer and sacrifices. This cult was banned in 1970 and has gone underground. Violators are imprisoned. Height: 9 in. (22 cm).

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A voodoo fetish doll (bocio). The bocio is kept in the home in a shelter covered in palm leaves. It is "fed" by pouring animal blood and palm wine on it. It serves as a sentinel watching over a house, clan, village, secret society or individual. Height: 10 in (25 cm). Fon tribe, Benin.

An ancestor relic of the Ada/Fon of Togo. These relics were the object of prayers and sacrifices and were informed of important decisions to be taken by an individual or community. Collected in Lomé, Togo (probably at the market).

Another nkisi bumba of the Yombe of Congo.

A Fon vodun (voodoo) object from Benin. Duck skull and bill, lock, keys, cloth, feather, clay, sacrificial patina.

The secret societies of Nigeria

The life of the Ibibio and Anang tribes revolves around three societies using a number of masks during their annual ceremonies. The most important of these societies is the Ekpo. responsible for the ancestor cult which guarantees the well-being of the tribe.

A mask of the Ekpo secret society, Ibibio tribe.

Secret society mask of the Ibibio Anang.

Talismans and amulets

A talisman necklace of the Fulani people. Leather and metal.

A Chamba diviner's bag from Nigeria.

A leopard tooth charm. Gio people, Liberia.

A medicine bundle from Mogdin, Liberia made of a small antelope horn with cowrie shells and fur attached.

A leopard- and lion-tooth necklace from the Congo. Pendant in the middle is a crocodile tooth.

Necklace of human teeth brought back from the Congo region by H.M. Stanley, taken in a fight between his party and a cannibal tribe along the Ituri river in 1889. (Copyright: the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London.)

Bwiti religion in Gabon

Participants in the Bwiti ceremony who have taken iboga, a hallucinogenic substance from the iboga tree.

A Mahongwe Bwiti mask, Gabon.

Sacramental iboga roots.

Divination and oracles

A Guro mouse box for divination. Inside, a horizontal panel with a hole divided the box. Hungry mice were put into the bottom section and during divination they climbed through the hole and ate food in the top section which moved around little objects like turtle shells, porcupine needles, batons, etc. The position in which these objects were found provided the oracle. From Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, 1950s.

An iroke divination object used by Fa priests in voodoo rituals. Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. The Fa priest strikes a divination plate with the iroke while pronouncing incantations. He is rewarded by an oracle which predicts the future of the enquirer. Ivory. Height: 8 in (20 cm).

An iron altar staff of the Gan ethic group from Ougadougou in Burkina Faso. These staffs were planted on private altars on terraces or outside community altars. Length: 20 in (44 cm).

Prehistoric Africa

Earliest Africans: skull of Paranthropus aethiopicus showing the sagittal crest -- a pronounced ridge of bone on top that served to anchor muscles used in heavy chewing. Age: 2.5 million years. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A bracelet in grey slate found on the Djado plateau of Niger. Age: 800 to 1,200 years before Christ.

A polished disk found in the Ténéré desert at Niamey, Niger. The purpose is unknown but it has signs of use. It could be the upper part of a millstone used for grinding. Diameter: 61 in (155 cm). Thickness: 6 in (15 cm). Early Neolithic (10,000-8,000 BC).

Jar with thick blue glaze found at Gammai grave site in Sudan. Date: 3,411 BC - 3,100 BC.

A hammerstone, battered at both ends, thought to be Lupemban culture, found in Angola. Lupemban culture was once thought to date from 10,000 to 12,000 BC but dates of 300,000 BC have been obtained from some sites.

A Neolithic stone axe found in Cameroon. Measurements: 14.2 x 10.8 x 4.2 cm (5 9/16 x 4 1/4 x 1 5/8 in.)

A throat ornament made of ostrich shell found in a grave near Gammai in Sudan. Date: 3,411 BC - 3,100 BC.

Ceramic vessel filled with clay, found in Harbel hills, Liberia. Measurements: 12.5 x 12.5 x 11 cm (4 15/16 x 4 15/16 x 4 5/16 in).

A carved quartz bracelet found in the desert at Niamey, Niger. Late Neolithic (800-1,200 BC).

A shell bracelet found in a grave in Sudan. Date: 3,411 BC - 3,100 BC.

Neolithic hammerstones made of indurated shale, found in Nioro region, upper Senegal.

A quartz lip or ear plug, found in Mali. Neolithic.

ABOVE: A beautiful old excavated copper coiled bracelet from Nigeria, of unknown age. Copper has been mined in Nigeria for over 2,000 years. Measurements: 3 1/4 in (8.5 cm) in diameter and 3.75 in (9.5 cm) in length. 

ABOVE: A solid bronze bracelet excavated in the Ténéré desert of Niger. Measures 6" x 5" (15.25 x 12.7 cm). Weight: 5 lbs (2.67 kilograms). Estimated age: 600 years.                     (Photo: www.nigerbend.com)

The Alok monuments in Cross River State of Nigeria are two thousand years old. Many other anthropometric stones remain undiscovered, concealed by undergrowth.

Artifacts unearthed at the Djenne-Djenno archeological site near Djenne, Mali. Undated. These artifacts were sold by the roadside. Photo by Damon Winter / The New York Times

Bura sculpture of a head, Niger, c. 3rd-11th century (terracotta).

Bura vessel, Niger, c. 3rd-11th century (terracotta)

Aerial view of the discovery of the Gobero site in Niger, vestige of a time when the Sahara was verdant and lush. Kiffian culture, nine thousand years old.

Bone harpoon point from Kantanda, Congo. Age: 80,000 - 90,000 years old. Humans in Central Africa used this harpoon point to spear huge prehistoric catfish weighing as much as 68 kg (150 lb), enough to feed 80 people for two days.

A mill and grinding stone made of vesicular basalt, found in the Ténéré desert at an exposed Sahara site in Niger. Tenerean African Neolithic Period: 7,500 - 4,000 years ago. Mill is 18" long x 6" wide. Grinding stone is 7" wide.

A polished stone bracelet found in Mauritania. Age: 3,000-5,000 BC.

This website is produced by Paris Alexander Walker of Santa Monica, California

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