M-Mbwoolu (Healing Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Yaka typically turn to a ngoombu (diviner) when seeking identification of an illness or misfortune. It is the ngoombu’s responsibility to identify the cause of the aliment and recommend a remedy, without prior knowledge of the client or his/her situation.

Once identified, the patient is referred to a nganga ritual healer who prescribes herbs to cure the disease. The nganga also orders the creation of a m-mbwoolu figure (also called mbwoolo bikeki). It is believed that the figure also plays a part in curing the afflicted. Once carved, the nganga performs rituals to empower the figure with protective medicines; the figure is coated with palm oil, rubbed with red khula paste and enhanced with chew kola nut. After the ritual is completed, the ill patient retires to his hut with the figure, where he must sleep with the m-mbwoolu figure to be cured.

There are a large variety of m-mbwoolu figures due to the individual nature of illnesses that nganga healers deal with. Some varieties include:

  • Kabamba-who-has-one-leg
  • Nga Mantedi or "Sir Serpent"
  • "Pointed"
  • "One-Breast"
  • "One-Arm"
  • "One-Eye"

Once created, the figures pass from generation to generation and are ultimately owned by the lineage (and not an individual). The figures are believed to have protective properties for the lineage, its property and future generations. When not in use the figures are sheltered in mbwoolo-tchio huts.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all m-mbwoolu figures:

  • Height = 3 inches to 14 inches in height
  • Red khula surface
  • Some feature kaolin encircling line across forehead and nose
  • Kola nut residue on stomach
  • Some feature dowel-like neck
  • M-mbwoolu figures do not have the typical Yaka upturned nose

Individual varieties include:

  • Penis-like figure (for impotence)
  • Enlarged or deformed heads (for insanity or epilepsy)
  • Twisted, spiralled or swelling torso (for stomach or kidney pains)
  • Missing limbs
  • Swelling torso
  • Janus form
  • Double figures (one figure above another)
  • One-legged
  • One-armed
  • One-breasted

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