Fertility dolls are very common among some tribes in Africa. Traditionally and culturally, they serve as objects for good omen particularly in conceiving among women. These dolls uniquely vary according to the tribe they are coming from and the purposes they serve. They are also made and sold commercially as works of art.
African dolls across the continent are created for young girls to play with and as a charm to ensure fertility in women. Their shape and costume vary according to region and custom. Frequently dolls are handed down from mother to daughter.
When the doll concept is considered in the context of African culture, they are usually not children’s playthings, but rather objects that are laden with ritual and religious associations within the community. African dolls are used to teach, and entertain. They are supernatural intermediaries and they are manipulated for ritual purposes. Each of these dolls is unique because they are handmade and are traditionally handed down through generations.
Dolls in South Africa
Dolls on the Ndebele culture.
Linga Koba dolls are from the Ndebele people in Southern Africa. One of the smallest tribes of the region, the Ndebele are noted for their painted homes of brilliant colors that stand out in the drab countryside. Their clothing is similarly colorful. The bead work on these Ndebele dolls is as detailed as the clothing of the women themselves.
During courtship, a suitor will place a doll outside a young woman’s hut, indicating his intention to propose marriage to her. When a young woman is preparing to marry, she is given a doll that she names and cares for. Her first child is then named for the doll.
In addition to strengthening the Ndebele cultural identity, the beaded Ndebele dolls are now an important export item and much needed source of income for the Ndebele woman.
Xhosa fertility dolls
Xhosa fertility dolls are beaded dolls made and worn by Xhosa women. The doll is also known as the ‘love doll’. It is made in order to attract an eligible husband and also increase fertility in order to produce many children. The dolls are believed to have supernatural magic powers. Young Xhosa girls are encouraged by older Xhosa women to wear the dolls around their necks in order to increase their fertility during childbearing ages. The girls are usually given their first doll by their parents when they start their initiation practice. The girl will look after it carefully since it is believed that if it is lost or damaged there is a risk that when she has a child, it will die.
After the birth of her first child the young mother will return the doll to her parents for use by a younger sister. Traditionally, young women should not openly display that they are looking for a husband therefore, it is customary for them to wear the ‘love dolls’ for attracting purposes in the nighttime. These secret necklaces usually consist of both a male and a female doll on a single necklace while those worn openly have only one doll attached to them. Married women also wear the dolls as a necklace in order to portray their desire to have children to the community and ancestors.
Here are a few African fertility dolls and the significance they hold among these four tribes.
1. Akuaba fertility dolls – Ghana
Made by the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, Akuaba fertility dolls are one of the most popular in Africa. Women who cannot conceive usually carry them on their backs to serve as a good luck charm. The dolls are treated and nursed like normal babies in the hopes the fertility gods bless the woman with a child.
2. Ndebele fertility dolls – South Africa
Fertility dolls are of very high significance among the Ndebele tribe in South Africa. The doll is secretly made by the bride’s maternal grandmother and presented to her after her wedding ceremony. According to customs and tradition, the doll must either be destroyed or passed on after the bride gives birth to her third child as it deemed unlucky to keep it afterwards.
3. Namji (Dowayo) and Fali fertility dolls – Cameroon
Fertility dolls are also very popular among the Namji people in Cameroon. Given to the women as gifts from their suitors, the Namji fertility dolls serve as symbols of good luck in childbirth.
The Fali fertility dolls, on the other hand, are gifted to brides by their grooms. They are also nurtured like real babies and serve as a symbol of their marriage bond and unborn child.
4. Mossi Biiga fertility dolls – Burkina Faso
The Mossi people from Burkina Faso also value fertility dolls. The Mossi Biiga fertility dolls are treated and nursed just like real babies by women hoping to conceive. The dolls are passed on from mother to daughter or from sister to sister after they serve their purpose.