Kpelle Healing Figure

Female Figure in Shroud Sa’sewodh  Kpelle Bellefuanai, Liberia Wood with aluminum and    kaolin.      Garment: local fabric, brass bells,      fiber, aluminum, and leopard teeth Height 22½ Inches (57 cm)

Female Figure in Shroud Sa’sewodh
Kpelle
Bellefuanai, Liberia
Wood with aluminum and kaolin.
Garment: local fabric, brass bells,
fiber, aluminum, and leopard teeth
Height 22½ Inches (57 cm)

Female Figure Sa’sewodh  Kpelle Bellefuanai, Liberia Wood, aluminum, kaolin. Height 22½ Inches (57 cm)

Female Figure Sa’sewodh
Kpelle
Bellefuanai, Liberia
Wood, aluminum, kaolin.
Height 22½ Inches (57 cm)

Sa’sewodh is a female figure that was of great importance to the Kpelle people. Few have ever been made. It had multiple functions. It could be used for oath taking, and to make medicine for the insane. Primarily, however, it was a healing figure used to make gynecological medicine (hence the position of the hands over the lower abdomen).

A living Poro Bush Spirit once dwelt within this figure. In order to make the figure “alive,” Poro Elders placed a concocted medicine into a large cavity in the back of the figure’s head. There may have been other uses as well, but the secrets of deep Kpelle Poro are well kept.

This figure served perhaps fifty villages. Normally, only the face of the figure could be seen peeking through the hole in its overlying garment, with only its feet sticking out from under its hem. This was done to keep the figure hidden from evil spirits, so it could surprise them. It was also kept covered to keep non-initiates from getting sick should they gaze upon it, since it could appear in public. The garment is shaped like a long, inverted sack of local country cloth, onto which are affixed leopard teeth and several brass bells, the tinkling of which is the voice of the Spirit. Also of note is a ring of 99.9% pure aluminum sewn onto the shroud. This esentially pure aluminum is also used for the eyes, the teeth and the anklets, consistent with the figure’s use in the Boy’s level of Poro.

The accordion-like angulation of the three facial planes is characteristic of Kpelle sculptural forms, as are the three inscribed lines around the sides of the face, which still contain evidence of kaolin applications.

 

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