This rare old mask of massive form and lustrous ancient patina is
arguably the finest of a small group from Sierra Leone about which
little is known. Hart (op.cit. pp.68-74) makes a good case for their
use as Bemba masks in the male initiation rites of the Temne. In his article he illustrates three masks very similar to the present one which are in the British Museum, Field Museum, Chicago and the Museum für Völkerkunde, Munich. The first of these was given to the British Museum by Sir Crampton Smyly who was Chief Justice in Sierra Leone 1898-1911: the Field example was donated by a Mrs. Burt whose father had received the mask in 1901 from a trading company in which he had a major interest; and the Munich example was donated by Dr. L. Kroeber in 1933.
There are two related examples in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna and six others in the British Museum besides that cited above, two of which have the brass application but not horns. Those in Vienna were sent to the museum in December 1906 by the Vienna-based trading company John MacLinks, with a letter referring to them as 'devil' masks used in dances and festivals. One in the British Museum came from the Church Missionary Society who had a mission in Sierra Leone, the others all came from the Wellcome collection, one with the record that it was bought at Stevens' auctions in September 1918.
Finally Hart describes the earliest known mask of this type that is recorded in a drawing from Bastian's Ethnologisches Notizblatt, 189 which is reproduced in Leo Frobenius's Die Masken und Geheimbunde Afrikas, 1898. It was given by Ernst Vohsen, a German businessman and Consul in Freetown in the 1880s to the Museum f/uur V/uolkerkunde, Berlin, who alas no longer have it. Vohsen probably collected the mask on one of his excursions into Temne areas in 1882. The entry describes it as a 'Parro' mask from the 'Timne' which Hart surmises should read 'Poro' and 'Temne'. Hart goes on to illustrate a very old mask he found used as a "ka-Bemba' in the Paki-Masabong chiefdom.