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Between and Mortarboard

UMMA Object Specific Fields

Query builder

Male Figure

Accession Number

Male Figure

Sierra Leonean

Artist Nationality
Sierra Leonean

Object Creation Date
15th - 17th century

Medium & Support

4 3/4 in x 2 1/2 in x 3 in (12.07 cm x 6.35 cm x 7.62 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Leah and John Atwater

Subject matter
Called "nomoli" in Mende, these soapstone figures date to between the 15th and 17th centuries. Scholars attribute the figures to the Sapi, as they were called by Portuguese traders in what is today Sierra Leone. Based on historical documents and current practices of the Temne, Baga, and Bullom, lingusitic descendants of the Sapi, the figures may have been carved to commemorate elite men and women or ancestors. Although these figures are no longer made, they have been found and repurposed by Mende, Temne, and Bullom peoples. The beard on this figure resembles that of Temne elders. As the heads of their lineage, a beard is seen as a symbol of authortity. 

References Cited: 
Lamp, Frederick J. 1983. "House of Stones: Memorial Art of Fifteenth-Century Sierra Leone" in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 65 No. 2. 
Levenson, Jay A. (ed). 2007. Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th & 17th Centuries. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Physical Description
Seated male figure with an elongated face that tilts backwards. A columnar projection, possibly a beard, extends from the bottom of the chin to the figure's knees. Both of the figure's hands grip the beard-like projection. 

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
commemorative sculpture
leaders (people)

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