Muzidi (Ancestor Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Bembe, a sub-group of the larger Kongo ethnic group of Democratic Republic of the Congo, make use of two key types of figures: ancestral figures used to represent and honour deceased community leaders, and another group of power figures used by diviners to cure ailments.

The Bembe (and their neighbours, the Bwendé) believe that reliquary figures covered with textiles are representations of ancestors; spirits of the dead, minkuyu, are said to reside within these figures. These muzidi (also called mudziri, muzuri or muziri in various sources) figures highlight the continuity between ancestors and living relatives—they serve as a mechanism for the continued contact between the living and the dead. They also demonstrate the important role ancestors are believed to play in ensuring the fertility and protection of the family and community. Prayers are addressed to muzidi figures in the hope that the ancestor (nkuyu) residing within a given figure will reveal what the future holds for the family or communicate the resolution required in a dispute.

Muzidi figures are typically made in advance of the death of an individual. Several months after the death of a revered elder, his or her body is exhumed and relics from the individual's corpse are transferred into the muzidi reliquary receptacle and bound shut with textiles. Swedish missionary, Karl Edvard Laman observed: "When the muzidi is empty and no nkuyu [spirit] has entered it, then it is just an image (kinsisia). A muzidi into which nkuyu has entered is called nkuyu."

Once the nkuyu spirit is transferred into the muzidi, the figure is displayed during a funerary celebration to honour the deceased after which the figure is housed within the family home.

Distinguishing Features

  • Height = 15 - 24 inches
  • Cane / vegetable frame
  • Frame covered in sewn textiles and stuffed with palm leaves and fibrous matter
    • Early examples used locally woven raffia cloth
    • Later examples made from European coloured and/or patterned cloth
  • Figure contain relics
    • Bones, hair, nails, and skin from the body of the deceased
    • NOTE: Figure with no internal relics were acquired from artists before they were consecrated
  • Animated arms
    • One arm usually raised
  • Narrow vertical torso
  • Seated posture
  • Outstretched legs extend horizontally
  • Exaggerated hands and feet

Share this