Ntadi (Funerary Figure)

'The Thinker'

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Mboma, a sub-group of the Kongo ethnic group in the Boma region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, carve and display mintadi (sing. ntadi; referring to the soft stone they are made of; also called bitumba, sing. tumba, in some sources) commemorative funerary figures. These figures, said to be representations of important rulers, chiefs, and leaders, are placed on the graves of important figures within the community as funerary guardians. Mothers are also honoured (the Kongo are a matrilineal society) and are depicted nursing a child (or children).

Some sources state that mintadi figures were also kept in the homes of chiefs and represent the ruler when he is away or at war. Other sources point to mintadi figures as statues of ancestors, memorial figures placed on graves for surviving family members to consult in times of need. What is clear however is that the depictions are reflections on how the client would like to be remembered after their death.

According to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, "a remarkable amount was collected in the 1950s by amateur ethnologist Robert Verly, who assumed they were part of a century-old tradition. However, further investigation indicated that their production can roughly be dated between 1850 and 1930. This period coincides with the development of a flourishing trade in the Congo estuary."1

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all mintadi figures:

  • Made from steatite, a soft stone known as Noki
  • Grey patina
  • Height = 12 to 20 inches
  • Figure sits on flared base
  • Some ntadi were originally painted
    • Flecks of paint may remain on some figures
  • Wide range of gestures and postures
    • About 20 different themes

Sub-type variations ('The Thinker'):

  • Wears a royal cap (mpu) and a necklace, which symbolize rank and leadership
    • Headdress usually topped with leopard claws
  • Funda nkata cross-legged seated posture (demonstrating wisdom, authority, balance, composure, and reflection)
    • Some sources call this pensive pose fumani (meaning 'thinker of sad things')
  • One hand rests on waist
  • Other hand supports large, slightly tilted head
  • Downcast eyes (deep thought)
  • Faint smile (serenity and calm)

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