The Noisy Nkisi



Basically, I’m a creature of impulse who, on the 5th January 2014 decided to pay a visit to an antiques shop. 2013 hadn’t been the best of years and I felt I needed to treat myself to get the New Year off to a good start. Having looked at some African artefacts on the lower floor where I had been drawn to a pair of ritual knives, I went to look upstairs. There wasn’t a great deal up there to be seen and I just couldn’t get these knives out of my head. I wanted one!

I headed back downstairs and took one more lingering look and decided I wanted to get my hands on them both so that I could choose which one to have. Having had a more detailed look I picked one and decided to try to talk down the price. I was told that I could have it for my offer price if I bought the pair. Well, one of them had a figure of a male for the handle whilst the other had the figure of a female; it seemed a shame to separate them so, I bought them both.

The label on each of them read “Dogon knife. Ritual knife. Bronze / Brass knife cast by the lost wax method, from Burkina Faso, Dogon leather, hand crafted”. So, just what sort of ritual would these knives have been used for and who or what are Dogon’s?

A week of fascinating research followed which I won’t bore you with, save to say that the Dogon’s practiced fetishism an ancient Portuguese religion, where a spirit is ‘invited’ into an inanimate object and later released once it has served its purpose. My wife and I studied fetishism a few years ago and having researched to Dogon’s my interest was rekindled.

The following Sunday came around and for some inexplicable reason, I just had to go back to the same Antiques shop to find myself a fetish. I knew that, at best, I was going to get myself an African sculpture and somehow try to coerce a ‘spirit’ into it.

I spent about 20 minutes looking for the perfect sculpture and decided upon a small pair of statues. I still needed what you might call a ‘cooling off period’ so I decided to have a short wander round. I walked into a small room which had masks on the far wall. I walked over to the masks and looked towards the floor. There on the floor was this rather large, damaged statue with nails of all things driven into it. I picked it up and read the label. “Tribally used Bakongo Nkisi Nail Fetish Figure – Fetishes were protective figures to weaken evil spirits” I looked at the price, it was really a three figure sum and really over my price limit; after all, Christmas had only just passed with all of its expense. Still, I’m sure nobody would mind if I just held it and stared at it for a while.

After about an hour my phone rang. A friend of mine had locked himself out and needed my help to get back in again. There was one problem though; I just couldn’t leave the fetish behind, I had to have it. Things were just going to have to be tight for the rest of the month!

I brought my prize possession back to Derby but, even though I cherished owning a real fetish, didn’t fancy having it in my house which is already haunted enough, thank you very much! Instead, I took it to Derby Gaol where I gave it further examination before locking it in the Police Museum under full view of the CCTV for the rest of the day. I spent the rest of the evening monitoring it from the comparative safety of home but, nothing happened.

The following day, after work, I called into the Gaol to have yet another look at my new acquisition which I had now named Fred (Fred the fetish). To my surprise, a piece of man made material, which had been securely tied around one of the nails and around of the Fred’s arms fell off. I picked it up to examine it. It had been burnt through! I checked through all the CCTV for the day and there was no sign of any interference from either the living or the dead. I placed Fred back on the table in front of the camera and moved into the dayroom to try and rationalise what had happened.

After a few moments there were some bumps and bangs which I went to investigate but, there was nothing to be found so I returned to the dayroom. I heard someone enter the gaol but when nobody appeared I went to see who had come in, again, there was nobody there.

The noises continued for about five minutes and I was quite relieved when a colleague arrived. At least I was no longer alone! The noises continued but at least I had someone living that I could blame for them even though, deep down, I knew it wasn’t him. For the first time, in twelve years of investigating the gaol, I was a little apprehensive about being in the gaol on my own. During the rest of the week, when anyone was in the gaol, day or night, the noises continued although as before, nothing was caught on CCTV.

I did of course, during the week, carry out some research where I found the following:


Nkisi refers to the spiritual charm of the figure, and nkondi refers to the carved power figure itself. Nkondi is derived from the verb konda, to hunt. Minkondi (plural for nkondi), like hunters, can capture liars, thieves, adulterers and others who undermine societal structure.

Generally carved in the shape of human beings or, on rarer occasions, dogs, minkondi were sacred objects which contained a powerful spirit, but did not literally represent the spirit. They derived their supernatural power from medicinal substances deposited in cavities cut into either the head or the stomach of the figure. These medicines attracted the spirit which, in turn, acted on behalf of the owner or the client of the figure. Its power could be positive or negative depending on what it was asked to do.

Normally, when an Nkondi has served its purpose, the Nkisi is released and the statue quite often gets sold to tourists so, how could Fred have had anything to do with the noises? Well, Fred’s arm had been bound which seemed to have him contained which wasn’t original. He’d also have red, white and black candle wax spilt on him which in Wiccan, are colours of protection. The bad news is though, that in fetishism, those same colours are the colours of empowerment so, has Fred been reactivated by ignorance?

For those of you that believe that what has happened so far is nothing more than just pure coincidence there was an incident that occurred on a public vigil on Friday 17th January which as yet I have not been able to comprehend or find any rational or logical explanation for, since it seems to go beyond the laws of nature:

There were 22 guests and 2 members of staff including myself. 12 of the guests and the staff were in the dayroom watching the remaining 10 who were split between the Condemned and Debtors cells on the CCTV. The gaol was in total darkness! As another member of staff had said they might join us, we were not in the least bit surprised when there were three loud raps on the door about five minutes before session was about to end. The guests in the dayroom were a little startled by the noise but were reassured once we told them who it was. However, when the door was answered, there was nobody there and the outer door was bolted from the inside making it impossible for anyone to have got in to bang on the door.

When the session finished the guests in the cells were asked what they thought about the incident however, they hadn’t heard a thing. Rather odd, since the door is located in their half of the gaol. They just assumed that someone had used the torch to go to the toilet. How could they have possibly missed the three loud raps? After all, they were all sat very quietly.

Is it possible that, where a ghost is only seen in a certain room, that sound can be restricted to a certain area, even when it seems to emanate from elsewhere? If that is the case then the sounds we experience are not transmitted by traditional sound waves but by some yet undiscovered method. Does that mean that audio recording equipment which relies on the transmission of sound waves would be unable to detect it?

Although a lot of the guests had spent a night at the gaol before, for several years, we have had little else but loved one’s come through. During this particular night, with Fred there, everything that was experienced by the guests was gaol related.

Another anomaly that has been noted is that if Fred has a geophone hung over one of the nails, if any other nail is touched, no matter how lightly, the geophone responds. A whole new line of research begins here!