Yassi Society Medicine Figure (minsereh)

late 19th - early 20th century

Mende Peoples
Place Made
Sierra Leone
Wood, reed, string
22 x 6 7/8 x 4 in (55.88 x 17.4625 x 10.16 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Victor K. Kiam
Accession #

Once a figure has been removed from its orignal cultural context, it is virtually impossible to determine the exact usage for with the piece was made. Similarly it is difficult to determine the exact location from which a figure comes without specific provenance information. The ringed neck, crested haristyle, and polished black patina all indicate that this figure comes from the Mende or Sherbro region of southern Sierra Leone, however.

Moreover, the three small scarifications under each eye indicate that it is most likely from either the Sherbro or western Mende area. Such markings were common cosetic scarification patterns in both of these regions early in the 20th century. Both of these regions encountered Western influence early in the colonial era, and Western garments were often adopted as prestige items and symbols of power. Thus this figure wearing a pair of European (military?) boots.