Stone carvings of this type are not rare. Thousands have been found around Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. They have also been recovered in smaller numbers in Mali. They are often discovered on river banks and in fields by farmworkers.
The populations responsible for the carvings are the Kissi, Koranko, Mende and Kono people, with both the Kissi and Mende attributing magical properties to the artefacts. Though the carvings are difficult to date, we can be sure that the present inhabitants of the region nor their immediate ancestors were the makers of the stones.
The Kissi refer to the figures as pomdo or pyomdo, meaning "the dead” or “images of the dead.” Pomdo (pl. pomtan) figures are believed to represent the Kissi’s ancestors. When a pomdo is found, the Kissi see this as a sign that a deceased relative is trying to make contact.
Once discovered the pomdo is deemed to be real, the carving is then wrapped in cotton bands soaked in the blood of a sacrifice and placed in a shrine to the ancestor. Oaths and ceremonies are performed before it.
“Real” pomtan are protected by a guardian who will be a descendant of the deceased person believed to be making contact. The guardian will ensure the pomdo remains safe and intact, prepare it for sacrifices and other rituals and feed it offerings. Many pomtan develop a crust due to prolonged “feeding” of rice, meat and sacrificial blood.
An alternative belief, held by some Kissi today, is that a pomdo is a person who has been turned to stone as punishment for an act of transgression.