Saturday wouldn’t have been complete without the Believe It Tour crew making a quick trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Located in the African art collection is a fascinating sculpture of a man, covered in shards of woods, that’s known as the nail man. This roughly 3 ½ foot tall statue has tales around it that are much taller than it is.
Museum legend has it that workers have claimed to see the diminutive wooden man come to life and perform an ancient African dance after the museum is closed. Others have also claimed to hear loud crashing noises. However, most people that experience the noise feel it sounds more like something associated with a painting falling rather than something coming from the statue.
The nail man has an interesting history that goes back hundreds of years. In the African Congo there are fetish statues known as Nkisi that are broken into two main categories called Nkondi (Minknodi) and Nkonde (Minkisi). Of the two the Nkondi were considered the most powerful and usually rather malevolent. Nkisi were considered a talisman against illness, evil spirits, and anything else that could be considered negative.
The Nkisi statues were made active by a ritual performed by a tribe’s magic or holy man. The basic statue was carved by one person and then finished by the magic or holy man with the addition of items such as the nails and by placing a magic substance somewhere in the body or head of the statue. The wood shards or nails were used as a means to provoke the statue to pursue whatever was causing a problem or to show potential evildoers what their fate might be. The older the statue was the more powerful it became as supposedly its power increased over time the more people believed in it. When missionaries first saw the Nkisti figures in the late 1600s they immediately said they were images of the devil.
I can’t say while we were there that we saw any statue dancing or heard anything amiss. However, the piece did have some interesting energy around it, so I can almost imagine some strange things going on in the museum at night or how a tribe in the Congo felt it had mystical powers hundreds of years ago.