Nkangi Kiditu (Christ the Protector Crucifix)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


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.

Distinguishing Features

  • Produced in a variety of styles and materials
  • Crucifix shows smooth patina from use
  • Figure of dying Christ
    • Figure cast in precious metal alloys
    • Emaciated crucified figure
    • Figure stretched into a cross shape
    • Head tilted to the right
    • Eyes, chest, belly, and top of head emphasised
    • Large protruding oval eyes
    • Oversized and flattened hands and feet
    • Thin limbs
    • Ribs represented by few simple lines
    • Figure wears short loincloth across hips (some examples have an 'X' marked on the front)
    • Earlier examples depict Christ with naturalistically modelled arms, legs, and torso that emphasise muscules
  • Figure attached to wooden or copper alloy Latin cross
    • Figure attached to cross with three pegs piercing hands and crossed feet
    • Four ends of cross embellished with metal covers
    • Top metal cover topped with a suspension loop
  • Smaller elements also attached to cross
    • 'INRI' inscribed oval plate above figure's head ('INRI' is the acronym for Christ's name, which was placed on the cross)
    • In some cases, 'INRI' inscription replaced by zigzag motif
    • 'Halo' metal plate affixed at intersection of cross branches
    • Orant figures (those in a posture of prayer) above figure
    • Praying Virgin Mary below Christ figure
    • Angel faces

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