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Child Figures of Southern Angola


Fertility Dolls - Angola





Even before the advent of civilization, humans have made images of themselves from material found in their environment, either as drawing on cave walls or as figurines made of wood or clay. These dolls or idols were used as religious or magical icons.

Today, dolls are defined as a three dimensional figure representing a human being, usually a child.

In Western culture the current definition of a doll is quite narrow, a plaything for a child. This has not always been the case; in Renaissance Italy a doll was often listed as part of the bride’s dowry. The woman was encouraged to bathe, feed and nurture the doll in the hope that she would bear a pleasing, healthy child. While in France when a community bedded a couple on their wedding night it presented them with a doll representing their future children. This shows that it is not only African cultures that used their dolls for ritual and play; similar examples exist for many cultures worldwide.

Across Africa dolls have played an important part in the everyday life of both children and adults. From dolls that fit our current western definition as simple child objects for play to ritual uses such as ancestor figures used to represent deceased loved ones. These dolls are used to thank the gods for good health, wealth, good harvests, and to encourage fertility. There is a doll for each cycle of life, birth initiation, marriage and death.

The materials used for dolls are as varied as their uses: wood, metal, clay, palm fronds, maize husks, textiles and rags, hair and a plentitude of others.


Angolan dolls occur over a vast semi-desert region inhabited by the Donguena, Evale, Hakawama, Himba, Humbe, Kwanyama, Mukubal, Mwila, Ndimba, Ngambwe, Ovambo and Zemba peoples. Dolls are known as "children" and have fertility connotations in virtually all local languages and dialects.   Ie. kana, ounona, o'vilolo and o’jilolo.


Child figures are prized possessions and are always well looked after. In the event of a fire in the homestead, the doll will be the first thing the inhabitant attempts to save. If an older woman has several daughters, her doll is passed onto the eldest.



Dolls play a very important role with young girls and their future marriage. When a girl who owns a doll is engaged, her husband-to-be gives the doll a name. From then on, the doll is considered to be the couple’s child, and when their first child is born, it is given the same name as the doll.  From this, her  doll is likened to a fertility figure. 


The following images were largely taken by collector - photographer  Neil Munro, as recently as September  2006.



Click thumbs for larger images.



What is particularly remarkable about Angolan dolls is their intricate adornment, often depicted in drawings. Little change to style or form has taken place, with regards to the elaborate coiffures they displayed.



Examples of  Angolan dolls in museum collections.


Wooden curiosity dolls evolved from interaction with Europeans.



The doll on the left was collected by J. R. Ivy during the 1940's. The two examples in the centre were re-discovered in Australia and likely date to the early 1900's.. Examples by The Warrior carver (right) are represented at the National Museum of Finland and the Swakopmund Museum, Namibia - circa 1920.







Dr. Carlos Estermann  (above) and Prof. Dr. Hermann Baumann (below).




Both men assembled and studied collections at Museu do Dundo in Angola in the 20th century.


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Central and Southern African Tribal Art


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