Lot: 219

Anthropomorphic head sculpture "mahen yafe"

Sierra Leone / Western Liberia

Provenance Size Hammer price
Jacques Kerchache, Paris, France (1966)
Merton Simpson, New York, USA (1996)
Private Collection, Lowell, USA
H: 11.8 inch 12000 EUR

heavy stone, brown paint, base

In a wide area of Sierra Leone and western Liberia, mostly on the present-day settlement area of the Mende and Kono, head sculptures "mahen yafe" were repeatedly unearthed during earthworks. Almost all objects were found by farmers when clearing their fields, digging wells or digging for diamonds.

It is beliefed that the "mahen yafe" were made by the disappeared Sapi people or their ancestors (Schädler, 2009, p. 532) who once inhabited these areas.

Their exact use is unknown. It is speculated that they might have been used as effigy heads or portraits set on the ground or on low altars in commemoration of deceased Sapi chiefs. "Mahen yafe" means "head of the chief".

Besides the stone heads "mahen yafe", smaller sculptures are also found again and again. Sculptures generally referred to by the Mende term "nomoli" are for the most part found in south-esatern Sierra Leone. Another group of carvings, found further inland, is nowadays referred to by the Kissi term "pomdo".


Schädler, Karl-Ferdinand, Encyclopedia of African Art and Culture, Munich 2009, p. 532 Tagliaferri, Aldo, Pomdo, Mahen Yafe and Nomoli, Paris 2003, p. 23 ff.
Fouchet, Max-Pol, Jacques Kerchache, "La Tête", Galerie Jacques Kerchache, Paris 1966, ill. 25; Tribal Arts, No. III, 2 August 1996, p. 53 (adv. Merton Simpson); Bolz, Franziska, "African Art", Köln 2016, p. 22 (as Sapi) Exhibited:

Paris, France: Galerie Jacques Kerchache, "La Tête", May-June 1966

ADHRC: 0115012

This object is subject to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Protection Act. For shipment to a non-EU member state, export regulations will vary.