Nkisi, also referred to as nkishi (pl. minkisi / mankishi / zinkisi) is the general name for an object (wooden figures, clay pots, gourds or bundles) containing an empowering spirit(s). An object only becomes an nkisi when it is filled with medicines (bilongo) and a spirit resides within the object. The spirits residing in minkisi can include ancestors (bakulu), local spirits (bisimbi bankita) or ghosts (minkuyu).
Banganga (meaning diviners; literally 'masters / priests of minkisi') defend community members against illness, witchcraft, infertility, and can even provide success in specific pursuits like hunting, by leveraging minkisi figures. They however can also be used for evil; clients may turn to an nganga for an nkisi that aids in the misfortune, sickness and death of his neighbours, foes and relatives.
A type of nkisi object is the mbumba (meaning 'grave', 'medicine ball', or 'trap'), used by an nganga diviner to provide protection for a family, control rain, and cure illnesses. Mbumba minkisi are also used to identify evil witches during the ceremony called liboka.
NOTE: See the National Museum of African Art video of the X-ray of a mbumba nkisi HERE.
Common features among all nkisi objects:
Sub-type variations (Mbumba 'grave' power object):