The Kongo Kingdom first made contact with the Portuguese in 1493 when explorer Diogo Cão, along with Catholic priests, explored the Congo river. This initial contact eventually led to the establishment of trade partnerships. In addition to the provision of goods, the Portuguese also brought Christianity, and the emblems of the Church. In time, Kongo rulers converted to Christianity; in 1491, King Nziga-a-Nkwunu was baptised as João I and in the early 16th century King Afonso Mvemba a Nzinga (Afonso I) made Christianity the official state religion.
Signalling the shift in religion and traditions, Kongo artists began incorporating Christian iconography into their work. The Christian crucifix was merged with Kongo emblems of the afterlife, protection, and power. The nkangi kiditu (meaning ‘Christ the protector’ or 'bound Christ') crucifix was born. Nkangi kidtu crosses were used as objects of prestige and power—Kongo chiefs commissioned the creation of crucifixes as symbols of their position and used them during mabondo ya nkangi enthronement ceremonies.
It is also believed that nkangi kidtu crucifixes had the ability to protect against witchcraft, illnesses, drought and properties that ensured fertility of women and the land.