The History of the Namji Dolls: Cultural Significance and Meaning
In many African cultures' dolls play a significant role in cultural traditions. Every doll has a unique appearance that reflects the rich history of the tribe. While dolls are often seen as toys, they are also objects used in rituals and for teaching ancient ways of life. African dolls are as unique as the tribes that they originate from and are handmade with techniques that have been passed down for generations.
One of our most loved dolls is the Namji Doll. This beautiful doll, also known as a Dowayo Doll, was first documented in the 1940's in Cameroon, but has been a part of their culture for much longer. Often describers as an "ethnic crossroad," Cameroon has more than 200 different ethnic groups and national languages. This diversity contributes to the large variety of art found there and has become highly-sought after by collectors around the world due to their unique and artistic design.
At Luangisa, our Namji Dolls are made by the Namji tribe in Cameroon who live in the West of North Cameroon. While the dolls traditionally have a large brown head, the body can vary in shape, size and design. Once the body of the doll is carved it is covered with woven fabrics made of multicolored beads and glass pearls. The the feet are adorned with cowrie shells, once the most widely used form of shell money, and metal strips. The doll is complete once it is mounted to a wooden base.
African dolls each serve a specific purpose, such as bringing wealth or protection to a family. The Namji Doll is most widely used as a fertility doll that is gifted to brides on their wedding day. The dolls are believed to provide the bride with enchanted fertility, a healthy pregnancy, and a safe birth.
Tradition states that the bride should carry the doll with them at all times until they are gifted with a child, then doll is placed on a family alter or passed down to a the brides daughter. Although most commonly used to aid fertility, they are also used to teach young girls how to care for a child through role play. Namji Dolls have also been used as good luck charms in ritual practices, as amulets and have been treasured as family heirlooms.
At Luangisa African Gallery, we carry a variety -- both in size and color -- of Namji Dolls and recently introduced our new pink and purple dolls. A beautiful addtion to any home, our Namji Dolls hold significance that you can honor and enjoy for years to come. You can see our complete line for all of your gifting and personal needs.