Nsesa ('Blessings' Fly-Whisk)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Mfumu (Chief) is at the heart of Kongo life and rule and the nganga (pl. banganga; meaning 'diviner'; literally 'master/priest of minkisi') defends the community against illness, witchcraft, infertility. Nsesa fly whisks form part of the regalia of Kongo chiefs and traditional healers. They highlight the power, status and roles of these important figures within the community.

Nsesa fly-whisks (also called nfunga, funga and funka in some sources), said to provide a connection to the power of ancestors, are used to protect and to bless. Chiefs use their fly-whisks to bless across the lands of the living and the dead. They 'sweep' away evil forces from the community. Banganga diviners use their fly-whisks during ritual processes that protect and heal their patients.

Distinguishing Features

  • Formed of a carved handle, wooden shaft attached to top of bottom of handle, and a buffalo tail attached to its upper end of shaft by a twisted metal strip
  • Made of Ivory or wood
  • Chief's fly-whisk usually more elaborate and made of ivory
  • Those used by nganga priests are simpler in form and typically made of wood
  • Handle a variety of forms
    • Seated male ruler
      • Carved wearing full regalia (including mfu headdress)
      • Sometimes carved wearing European-style collared tunic, belt, and close-fitting cap (attire adopted by Kongo leaders to signify power and prestige)
      • Hands hold knees or one holds a cowrie shell
      • Some examples carved holding royal regalia (chief staffs and knives)
    • Cross-legged female maternity figure
    • Kneeling or seated female figure (represents the support of the matrilineal line)
      • Arms folded against chest, breasts held with both hands
      • Others carved with hands on knees or holding a gourd
    • Standing female figure
      • Hands hold stomach
    • Sometimes carved depicting a proverb
      • Elephant carrying a rooster (Kongo myth of an elephant carrying the sons of the great Ne Kongo, founder of the Kongo kingdom)
      • Carved bird's head
  • Glass inlaid eyes on faces of handle in some examples
  • Keloids sometimes carved on upper chest and breast band of female figures
  • Row of small oval shells sometimes carved into more elaborate fly-whisks
  • Lead-inlaid wood shaft often decorated with geometric patterns

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