Friday, July 30, 2010

The Importance of Play Dolls in Angola

In my previous years of living in Angola in the 90's, I came across many young Angolan children who carried around and took care of dolls very much in the same manner as children in western cultures.  It was evident that most all of the dolls that I spotted were originally sourced from North America.

In Western culture the current definition of a doll is quite narrow, a plaything for a child. Generally, most dolls in Angola, as in most all of Africa, are used by children, primarily girls, to help them envisage their future roles as adult women, mothers and the primary caregivers in their communities. Though used in play, the forms of many dolls encode important social and aesthetic concepts about appropriate demeanor and the links between physical and moral beauty. Not surprisingly, dolls in different African societies emphasize in both form and decoration, aspects of ideal feminine beauty. They include elaborate coiffures, body ornamentation and physical features that underscore the importance of fertility.

Until a few years ago, little contact had been made with the Ndimba people, who are relatives of the Mwila clans of Southern Angola. This doll was handed down to the vendor by her mother. The centre or core of Ndimba dolls is made from a solid piece of carved wood. Fabric is obtained from the doll makers actual clothing. Plastic, wire and grass fibre rings are as those worn by the owner as bangles. Beads decorate the hairdo,
which are meant to replicate the owners coiffure. The name given to the doll will become the name of the owners first born child. At the left, a young Ndimba girl holds a similar doll.

Ovambo dolls are amongst the rarest and most sought after beaded artworks from southern Africa. The men of the Kwanyama Ovambo peoples of southern Angola and northern Namibia carved these dolls as prophecies of future children. Fathers would give these dolls to their daughters. The dolls are rich in symbolism - the obviously phallic shape alluded to fertility and the importance of the male while the blue beads resemble garments worn by Ovambo women.  (Information from Galerie Ezakwantu, South Africa)

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