Photographs © Tim Hamill
BATEKE, FETISH FIGURE 9, 19.5", $ , Dem. Rep. Congo
Fetishes were protective figures used by individuals, families, or whole communities to destroy or weaken evil spirits, prevent or cure illnesses, repel bad deeds, solemnize contracts or oath-taking, and decide arguments. A diviner or holy person would activate the statue, using magical substances. Fetishes gained power and were effective because people believed in them.
These small figures were individually owned and served to protect, assist or heal. Facial scarification patterns are identical to those of Bateke men. The figures gain special power by the addition of organic material (Bonga), placed in a cavity in the body or encased in a clay or cloth mantle enclosing most of the body. Each figure has its own specific purpose, known only to its owner. If a fetish successfully demonstrates its power, its owner may detach Bonga, break it into several pieces and insert fragments intp other figures. He will then sell new figures to neighboring families, leaving the original statue with an emaciated body. The statues with Bonga are called Butti; without Bonga they are called Tege.
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