Sierra Leone’s stone heads, which are thought to date back to the 15th century, are known as chief spirits among the Mende people. The Temne of Central Sierra Leone believe the stone heads were carved by spiritual beings, which explains why their origins are unknown.
According to author Fredrick Lamp in his book ‘House of Stones,’ historians initially associated the stone heads with ancient Egypt or Phoenicia, where early men pioneered civilization. The stone heads are spread across 60,000 square kilometers of Sierra Leone’s southeastern half, rather than in a single location.
There have been no archaeological excavations of stone heads, but they are thought to be prevalent in the Guinean localities of Kissi and Kuranko.
According to early 1900s researchers, the stone heads are the result of carving from early men’s workshops in an abandoned cave. According to Major Anderson, some traditional authorities from Kono, Temne, and Mende claimed the stone heads were discovered in caves and other work sites.
Many tribes associate various names and meanings with the stone heads’ existence. The Temne call the stone heads tamal. According to oral history among local tribes, the stone heads have some spiritual significance and are the work of a Supreme Being.
The Mende call the stone heads mahei yafeisia, which translates to “chief’s spirits.” The discovery of stone figures made in Mende is shown in their entirety. Archaeologists have noted that Sierra Leone’s stone heads are distinct and bear no resemblance to similar discoveries in other parts of the world.
However, researchers claim that there are some striking similarities with stone figures in Guinea’s Baga region. The heads, eyes, and ears, which appear in a C shape, are the only similarities between the Sierra Leone and Guinea stone figures. The noses of the stone heads discovered in the two regions, however, differ. Stone figures in Guinea have narrow noses, whereas those in Sierra Leone have broad noses.
The stone figures have become dominant objects of art in the Mende, Bullom, and Kono people’s customs. Their roles in culture and tradition differ from those of medieval times, but their importance cannot be overstated.
The stone figures represent a large individual protecting a small adult being resembling a kneeling woman.
According to researchers, the placement of the stone heads represents nobility in some Sierra Leonean circles. They are regarded as ancestors and spirits of the dead by several tribes. The stone figures are revered as kings in some tribes and are placed in shrines.