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Gallery Ezakwantu

African Art  - Art Africain - Tribal Art -  菲洲艺术 - Afrikanische Kunst


Central and Southern African Tribal Art

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African Dolls - Fertility Dolls

Child Figures from Southern Africa

Poupées Africaines - Afrikanische Puppen



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Ngwambe Doll - Angola


Circa 1960's




Ngambwe Doll - Angola


Until a few years ago, little contact had been made with the Ngambwe people, relatives of the Mwila of Southern Angola. Dolls are handed down from mother to daughter to care for like children. The name given to the doll will become the name of the daughters’ first-born child. The centre or core of Ngambwe dolls is made from a solid piece of carved wood. This doll embraces a rich deep patina of animal fat.


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Fabric is obtained from the doll makers' actual clothing. Plastic, wire and grass fibre rings are added from those worn by the owner. Below, a young girl holds a related doll.


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Angolan Doll



Doll measures + - 23 cms.


Beads decorate the braided hairdo, meant to replicate the owners owners coiffure.



Follow this link to learn more about child figures from Angola. 





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Ntwane Initiation Dolls


Gimwane - Ntwana Dolls - Circa 1970's




Ntwane Girls with Gimwane Dolls - Barbara Tyrrell - Circa 1950


The emphasis on the Ntwane women’s central role as wives and mothers is pervasive before female initiation. It finds its most visible form in the gimwane or popenyane – a traditional fertility doll constructed from plaited grass, wool, and beads.




Ntwane "gimwane" Doll - 741


This doll came from the collection of  POS - Udo Horstmann - O. H. S.



Ntwane "gimwane" Doll - 741 / Close-ups - side and rear of circa 1920 glass buttons.


The skills necessary for producing the gimwane are passed down from mother to daughter. Pre-initiate girls pretend the dolls are the progeny of their current boyfriends, who are invited to participate in a dance competition, the outcome of which determines the leader of the prepubescent group.





Ntwane Girl with Gimwane Doll - Barbara Tyrrell - Circa 1950




Two other Ntwane "gimwane" dolls made for young girls initiation. (9304 & 9307)


The young boys usually congregate at the home of one of the girls, who places the gimwane in a line. The “fathers” and “mothers’ then form two rows on either side of the fertility dolls and proceed to dance with their partners.





                                Young girls initiation.                                                       Tribal Peoples - Page 75

Although these fertility dolls have no specific sexual articulation, the gender of some gimwane may be determined by the shapes of their frontal or rear apron. Male gimwane are dressed with rectangular front loincloths, while the female dolls are identified by V-shaped aprons which resemble the rear aprons worn by uninitiated Ntwane girls.





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 Ndebele Dolls - South Africa


umndwana - Circa 1950's


Beaded Ndebele dolls were made for adolescent girls either by their mothers or by the girls themselves.





This Ndebele doll sports eight beaded rings on the torso and twelve others strung along connecting arms.





Adult women in traditional Ndebele dress.


The Ndebele dressed their dolls much as they did their person. Sometimes beaded rings encircle the dolls arms, patterned after actual arm rings once worn by Ndebele women.






Small doll charms were made to be given away as presents - or sold as souvenirs. This example dates to the 1950's and sports oxidized copper wire leg rings.




Ivy's Album - Ndebele Section


 The Ndebele Ndzundza  live in Mpumalanga South Africa and called their dolls "umndwana".




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Swazi Snuff Doll - Indlelo


Suspended Fluted Snuff Bottle - Doll




Fluted snuff containers made of horn were worn on the hip in southern Swaziland. Cotton wool and glass beads decorated the objects. They hold a striking resemblance to Swazi fertility dolls - worn in a similar manner as Swazi living to the north.





Flutted snuff bottles were made by Zunda speakers, who used them as fertility dolls. Gordon Crawford writes; In southern Swaziland maidens would give their personal snuff container to their boyfriend to wear. This act of intimacy indicated to everyone that he had a girlfriend. - A few elderly Zunda speaking people interviewed have stated that they were named after snuff containers given to fathers by mothers. - This overlap between dolls and snuff containers is understandable when one realizes that both the dolls and the snuff containers are worn identically to sway from the hip at traditional dances. - It may be that the suspended snuff container is the precursor of the Swazi fertility doll, which is probably a beaded pseudo snuff container.






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Zulu Fertility Dolls


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Zulu Doll 'A'


Zulu dolls from the Msinga area were made by girls at the time of their engagement, then worn on her neck during special occasions. If the owner  visited her prospective in-laws she would put the doll’s hair over it’s face as a sign of respect. After she married, a tuft of red wool would be put on the doll’s head which made the statement; I’m married. The doll would be put in a place of honor in her hut and eventually would be given to her child or grandchild.






These pictures were likely taken in the 1960's and would have been commissioned by the girls to send to their boyfriends who lived in the urban centers. Each girl holds a related doll.


Zulu Doll 'B'


This dolls coiffeur has a long bun, which was a Zulu fashion prior to 1920. The image to the lower right shows two girls of the period dressing hair.



Doll measures + - 11 cms.

The Zulu doll carries a baby. We know of only two or three such examples. The example below appears in 'Tracing the Rainbow' and may very well have been made by the same hand.




Figure 151 - Tracing the Rainbow - Page 189




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Shangaan Fertility Doll


Tsonga Fertility Doll




Tsonga -Shangaan women dressed in early 20th century attire. - Duggan-Cronin


Tsonga / Shangaan dolls are called nwana, which means 'child'. Although they represent children they are dressed somewhat like their adult owners.


Dolls were made by pubescent girls and later used in dances during their puberty ceremony called khomba or musubethu. When a girl married, she would take the doll with other items to her new home, where ultimately a real child replaced the doll. The women's skirts, as well as dolls skirts, were made from Salempore fabric that originates in India. Salempore was brought into the area by traders through Delagoa Bay and is locally known as nwalukambu.




Shangaan Doll


This Tsonga / Shangaan doll was obtained from John Williams. John Williams assembled a Southern African collection with items dating to the mid 20th century and before. He lived in the Shangaan area, as well as in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).


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This striking doll has three very large panels and is decorated with bells and beaded tassels. 





Your attention is drawn to the Star of David patterns found on a side panel. The design is also found on Ndebele and Venda beaded work. It has been suggested the area adopted this from the nearby Lemba, known as the 'black Jews' - who trace their origins to Yemen. (Recent DNA testing confirmed Lemba descend from a priestly caste of Judaism, i.e. descendants of Aaron). As such, the ancient pattern long ago became a Southern African beaded tradition. (It is also found in plant fibre basketry.) 





Your attention is again draw to the top of the doll which confirms an early collection date.




The fertility doll's massive back panel resembles a cape. Doll measures + - 15 cms.




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Beaded Bottle - Doll


Shangaan - Tsonga





Beaded bottles, particularly those with brads or tassels attached to a stopper as this example, were traditionally used as fertility dolls. This example was collected in a colonial context, together with an old Shangaan beaded panel. The colors are popular with the Shangaan




South Sotho beaded dolls - center a beaded bottle. UCLA Fowler Museum  





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Ba Tonka Clay Dolls


Circa 1980




From the John Williams Collection


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Doll measures + - 27 cms


Museum records confirm that most of the tribal peoples of Southern African origin made clay dolls during the 19th century. The Ba Tonka "or Batonga"  are no exception. They live on both sides of  the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba in Zambia and Zimbabwe. In 1960 the Kariba dam was completed - at the time it was the largest man-made dam in the world. The Ba Tonka were forced to relocate away from the flooding valleys where they had lived and fished for what may be three millennia.




Ba Tonka Women - Circa 1949 - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens


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"EVOCATIONS of the Child" refers to Southern African child figures made of clay as "Children of the Earth". John Williams collected both clay dolls on the Zambian side of the river. His Southern African collection contained mostly items dated to the mid 20th century or before. 


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Doll measures + - 30 cms.


This second example has a removable head. To our knowledge, clay dolls by the same hand are only known in one museum collection.





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Phallic Dolls of the Turkana


Turkana Fertility Dolls - ikoku - Child




Turkana Doll 'A'


The Turkana live in a harsh environment in northern Kenya and Uganda, yet seem to be able to create something out of just about everything around them, confirming that scarcity is the mother of invention...  Shown here are fertility dolls made from palm nuts, glass beads, plant fiber and leather.




Peoples of Africa Ethno-linguistic Map - C L Meur - Marc Leo Felix


The dolls are made from nuts that grew naturally in a three lobed form, resembling male genitalia. This symbolic male sexual organ is perceived to be a woman's body, then dressed accordingly in woman's attire. The penis becomes her neck and the testicles her body and legs. The entire surface is decorated with rows of beads held together with leather strips. The hairstyle is that of a married woman. Sometimes a leather apron is attached to the waist, but beads are also added.


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Side comparisons of Doll 'A'


All over Africa dolls are phallic in form. This is because their primary function is to encourage and ensure the fertility of those who possess them. Mothers make fertility dolls for their unmarried daughters while young childless women may make them for themselves.


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Front and rear view of Doll 'A'




Young Turkana girls shown wearing dolls on their chest.



Turkana Doll 'B'

The making of dolls is primarily the preserve of women. The choice of bead and color arrangement can have both social and ritual significance.


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Three views of Doll 'B'


The beads of a doll are given to a girl by her lover's best friend. In the case of a young married woman, her husband's best friend takes over the role. For this reason the doll is named after the donor of the beads. The lovers or married couple then consider the doll as their child. After giving birth to her first child, a woman gives the fertility doll to a younger sister...




Turkana Doll (facing down)


Finally, girls may play with and actually wear these dolls from a young age. (as per earlier image) As they grow up, the fertility aspect of the figure becomes of paramount importance, which is why they always are worn facing up.



Both dolls are offered with their custom made stands.





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About African dolls.....



Most dolls in 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.








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Central and Southern African Tribal Art


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