Offered to the Nasher Museum
Hundreds of years ago the inhabitants of current day Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia carved small mysterious stone figures from steatite (soapstone) and limestone. The figures, ranging in height from three to seven inches and referred to as nomoli figures, are among the earliest form of art from the West African region. The purpose of the nomoli figures is unknown. Current inhabitants of the area unearthed these ancient stones while preparing their farms and along riverbanks while digging for diamonds. The Mende, Temne, and Kissi, as well as smaller tribes treat these statuettes differently. Many Mende refer to the stones as rice gods and view the stones as spirits (devils) with the power to impact the quality and quantity of their crops. The stones are often whipped or praised depending on harvest outcomes. The Temne and Kissi tribes use the figures in shrines and believe they have the power to communicate with ancestors.
Between 1968 and 1985, we (Reginald and Celeste Hodges) accumulated a number of these stone figures. All were collected in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Several were gifts from farmers in Bagruwa Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. One was pulled from a well in Foya, Lofa County, Liberia. Twelve were acquired from students in return for assistance with education-related costs.
We are offering sixteen nomoli stone carvings from Sierra Leone to the Nasher Museum. The stones have never been exhibited or published. Our desire is that the stones be accepted as a unit and kept together. We believe future research will provide clarity as to who produced these stones and for what purpose. To the best of our knowledge the stones are all authentic and date to between the 15th and 17th centuries. If accepted, we will provide the Nasher a formal appraisal performed by a certified African Art expert.
The sixteen individual stones are pictured below. The stones are all in original condition. They have not been wiped, compressed air-cleaned, polished, artificially stained, or altered in any way.
For additional information on nomolies I refer you to: