Sherbro/Kissi, Guinea/Sierra Leone, 1000-1500 AD
Height : 14 cm
Provenance Private collection, Italia
Probably carved in steatite, this refined yet powerful little statuette -called nomoli or pomdo by the Kissi people- originates from the Upper Guinea Coast, in a region spread between modern-day Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Ancestor worship or praying to deceased relatives is still a common practice among the Kissi, who believe that ancestral spirits act as mediators between them and the creator, god. Small stone statues are used to represent those spirits. They are worshipped and offered sacrifices by the village headmen. Many carved soapstone figures and heads were produced by the Kissi people in the past prior to colonial contact with the Europeans. It is not clear why they were made; some scholars argue that they form part of ancestor worship while others say they may represent gods to increase agricultural yields. A large number can be seen in the British Museum’s collection.
Thomas J. Alldridge (1847-1916) who was the first district commissioner of Sierra Leone in 1901 mentioned that “steatite devils” were sometimes dug up, and were greatly prized for their sup- posed supernatural powers. He commented that “as there are no native sculptors, they must be of great antiquity...” And in fact, we know almost nothing about the origins and dating of these stone figures, except they were already carved well before the arrival of the first europeans in the region, in the 16th century. A few stones found deep underground even suggest a much earlier datation...
Undoubtedly, the archaic remanence, and the worn smooth surface of the present figure indicate a great age. While the delicate head features and detailed body evince great artistry.