In this lesson students will have an opportunity to apply journalistic writing skills and their imaginations as they “report” on actual conflicts and write about how they imagine the conflicts would be resolved using the Nkisi Nkondi.
Intended Age GroupSecondary (grades 6-12)
Length of LessonTwo 50 minute lessons
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- list and describe at least three types of conflict resolution practiced in their communities;
- write an article using traditional or new journalism methods;
- state the purpose and method of use for the Nkisi Nkondi; and
- use their imaginations to write detailed tidbits to include in an article on the Nkisi Nkondi.
- Warm-up: Bring in articles of current conflicts in your community, the nation, and the world. Have students work in groups of 2-3 to read and summarize the articles. They should note the following:
- Who’s involved?
- What are they disputing?
- Are they trying to resolve the conflict? How? Are they using violent or non-violent methods?
- Have students make a collage of pictures and words that reflects methods used to solve personal and social conflicts today (e.g. courts, wars, discussions, mediation).
- Lead a large-group discussion on the following:
- What are the benefits, risks, and role of words in solving conflicts? Focus on the role of words.
- When someone makes a promise, what do you expect to happen?
- What if someone breaks his or her word? Talk about different consequences and problems.
Here are some useful links on conflict resolution:
- Share the picture of the Nkisi Nkondi. Using the About the Art section, teach students about its purpose and role in conflict resolution.
- Allow students time to discuss this method as compared to conflict resolution strategies used in their communities. Revisit the concept of the importance of someone’s “word” when resolving conflicts as it refers to the Nkisi and their own social setting.
- Warm-up: Have students quickly write about their morning and what happened before coming to school. Ask for volunteers to come up and give a “live” news report on what they’ve written. Encourage them to ham it up and have fun. You might want to demonstrate by giving a report of your own first!
- Tell students that they are going to act as journalists. Teach them about traditional and new journalism styles such as newspaper journalism, TV and radio journalism, new media journalism, narrative journalism, etc.
- Have students report on a conflict they’ve seen or read about (report may be written or audio/visual like a news broadcast). Students should use third person pronouns such as “he” and “she” when reporting.
- Once they’ve written a first draft article, they should meet in groups of 2-3 to peer review and edit the first part of their articles.
- Have students complete the article they’ve started by imagining that the Nkisi Nkondi was used to resolve the conflict they described; make certain they include details about what they “observed” during the conflict resolution with the Nkisi Nkondi (e.g. the spiritual leader as witness, hammering the nails, etc.)
- Have students share and peer edit each other’s articles, paying attention to use of details and the general feeling and flow of the piece. Does it make sense? Do they want to keep reading to find out what happens?
- Ask for volunteers to read their articles to the class.
- Lined paper and pencil/pen for each student
- Newspaper, magazine, or Internet articles about various types of conflicts at the local, national, and international level (some should include descriptions of how conflicts are being resolved – e.g. court, violence, mediation)
- Magazines from which students can cut out words and pictures
- One 11 x 17 inch poster, pair of scissors, and glue stick for each student
- Internet access to some useful links on conflict resolution like the following:
- About the Art section on the Nkisi Nkondi
- One color copy of the sculpture for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen.
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
This sculpture comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. We do not know the name of the sculptor who carved this particular object. An nkisi [en-KEE-see] is the result of a collaboration between a sculptor and an nganga [en-GONG-ga]. An nganga is a ritual specialist, a healer, and a mediator. Upon request, a sculptor would carve an nkisi in the form of a man, woman, or animal. Whatever the form, it is crucial that the figure suggests aggressiveness. Protruding tongue, hands on hips, wide eyes, and an open mouth are common aggressive details used by sculptors. Once the sculpture was completed, the nganga performed rituals and attached objects to enhance the nkisi’s power.
What Inspired It?
This nkisi is a device, record keeper, or tool for dealing with social issues. Minkisi (plural) have both public and private functions. Historically, they were used by individuals, families, or whole communities to destroy or weaken harmful forces, prevent or cure illnesses, ward off bad deeds, solidify contracts or oaths, and resolve arguments. Nkisi are intended to create a frightening effect; it is the sculptor’s job to create an image that implies force.
Ritual experts, or nganga, mediated between conflicting parties and aided individuals seeking help. In the case of a dispute, a representative from each side of the conflict would hammer a piece of metal into the nkisi figure. In disputes over land, for example, sealing an oath by hammering a nail into the nkisi would be sufficient to secure the land for generations. Contracts and personal vows could also be confirmed in this manner. A person’s word was sealed by attaching a personal item, usually drawn from their body—a piece of cloth, hair, or even saliva—to the nail or blade before it was hammered into the figure. Each party is then bound to honor the terms of the agreement. Nganga would memorize the circumstances attached to each nail and blade. In cases where an nganga was asked to cancel a vow, it was crucial not to remove the wrong nail, since each nail concealed an oath or agreement.
This figure is carved from wood that now appears to have some termite damage, particularly on the body. There are very faint traces of color on the face in black, white, and yellow. Thin lines have been carved above the eyes to form eyebrows.
In general, minkisi vary in size. This sculpture is about two feet tall. Smaller sculptures were owned by individuals, while life-size figures belonged to a village or community.
This nkisi is carved in the form of a male figure. Not all nkisi are male, some are carved in the form of women and others appear to be animals. The figure’s knees are bent and he is missing his arms and hands. His mouth is slightly pursed and it looks as though his eyes are closed.
Sculptures were activated by driving nails or other pieces of metal into them. The nkisi would recognize the parties involved by traces of their saliva or other personal items attached to the metal.