Sierra Leone’s mysterious stone heads believed to have been carved by spiritual beings

Stephen Nartey October 10, 2022
Close-up of stone "Nomoli" figure from Sierra Leone. Image via Wikimedia Commons/John Atherton

The stone heads of Sierra Leone, believed to be dating far back as the 15th century, are known as chief spirits among the Mende people. The Temne of Central Sierra Leone are of the view the stone heads were carved by spiritual beings and that explains why how they came into existence remains a mystery.

In his book ‘House of Stones’, author Fredrick Lamp said historians have initially associated the stone heads with ancient Egypt or Phoenicia where early men pioneered civilization. The stone heads are not located at one site but scattered across a 60,000 square kilometer of the southeastern half of Sierra Leone.

There are no known archaeological excavations of the stone heads but are believed to be dominant in the Guinean localities of Kissi and Kuranko.

Researchers in the early 1900s said the stone heads are a product of carving from early men’s workshops in an abandoned cave. A Major Anderson, who made this assertion, said some traditional authorities of Kono, Temne and Mende claimed the stone heads were spotted in caves and other work sites.

Many tribes associate many names with the stone heads and associate meanings with their existence. The Temne refer to the stone heads as tamal. Oral history among local tribes posits that the stone heads have some spiritual association and are the handiwork of a Supreme Being.

The Mende refer to the stone heads also as mahei yafeisia literally translated to mean chief’s spirits. The discovery of stone figures made in Mende is captured in their full size. Archaeologists have pointed out that the stone heads of Sierra Leone are distinct and bear no resemblance to similar findings in other parts of the world.

Researchers however say there are some striking features which appear alike with stone figures in the Baga region of Guinea. The common features between the stone figures of Sierra Leone and that of Guinea lie in the form of the heads, eyes and ears which appear in a C-shaped form. The noses however differ between the stone heads discovered in the two regions. Whereas the stone figures in Guinea have narrow noses, the ones in Sierra Leone have broad noses.

The stone figures have become dominant objects of art in the customs of the Mende, Bullom and Kono people. In modern times, the roles they play in culture and tradition differ from the medieval times, but, their significance cannot be overlooked.

The stone figures metaphorically represent a large individual protecting a small adult being reminiscent of a kneeling woman.

Researchers say the positioning of the stone heads represents nobility in some circles in Sierra Leone. Among several tribes, they are seen as ancestors and spirits representing the dead. In some tribes, the stone figures are placed in shrines and are revered as kings.

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