Researching RAMM’s Africa collections

Dr. Zachary Kingdon spent four days at RAMM last week examining a small number of items from Central and West Africa.  Dr. Kingdon is the Curator of the Africa collections at the World Museum, Liverpool.  He was born and raised in Africa and was taught to carve in wood by Makonde artists.


Figure 1 Dr. Zachary Kingdon talking to volunteer Rebecca Vicary-Smith about an nkissi that’s in the form of a dog (accession number 9/1889/61).



























These historic items were acquired by people who travelled to the African continent at a time when Europeans were working with existing trade networks and official powers (prior to the destruction caused by colonisation).  To acquire objects like shrine figures, Europeans had to develop their relationship with a successful trading association such as the Lemba in Central Africa.

Power figure (nkisi)

The dog-shaped power figure (nkisi) in the image above was collected by ivory and rubber trader Richard E. Dennett.  Dennett was employed by the Liverpool firm Hatton & Cookson.  His family was based in Devon.  He donated his rare collection of carvings, medicines and the costume of an nganga (traditional healer) to RAMM in 1889.  One particular item in question is an unusual carving.  This is of a kneeling woman whose form also contains images of snakes and ancestors with a central ‘sun-like’ or ‘flower’ bundle protruding from the chest.  The figure is painted white, a colour associated with the ancestral world.  At the moment little is known about this piece but it could be a representation of Nzambi, the supreme being or creator god who the local people believed was a woman.


Figure 2 Kneeling figure of a woman with ancestors (Accession number 9/1889/53) collected by Richard E. Dennett. Possibly an image of Nzambi who, according to Dennett was believed to be the supreme-being and creator god who was also a woman (see Dennett, 1887, Seven Years Among the Fjort, p.47).