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What would it be like if you and your community had a single object to help solve problems, stay healthy, and maintain peace? What would such an object look like? What qualities would it have?

This carved figure’s raised arm, sharp surface, intense stare, and assertive stance might not immediately communicate “peace” to many people today. To the Kongo people who used it in the late 19th and early 20th century, however, the sculpture held the promise of peace. They counted on this aggressive-looking figure to help solve their most troublesome crises, such as healing the sick, protecting the village, ending natural disasters, or getting revenge on someone who misbehaved.

The Kongo people in Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo and their neighbors call figures like this nkisi nkondi, which means “medicine/night hunter.” A sculptor carved this figure in the fierce pose of a hunter. But this hunter did not hunt animals; it hunted knowledge and the truth. The nkisi nkondi was regarded as a powerful spiritual being that would hunt down people who caused trouble or broke agreements in the community.

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