The most beautiful dolls in Africa. The first time I laid my eyes on the Namji Dolls, I thought to myself… what an interesting masterpiece! Before long, I had laid my eyes on another, and another, and another, and it was as if I was looking at whole new creations, alike yet so different.
Each Namji doll is carved with a unique stature and facial expression. Crafted by hand, they are considered original art pieces and often expensive.Their distinctive appearance that represent mother, father or child; carved into geometric shapes and adorned with colourful beads, metals, fibre, cowrie shells,coins and even leather, have created a large demand around the world for not only their shapes, but their deeper meaning.
Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. Those who have the gift of creative expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality of others to those others. In participating in the work of art, they become artists in their activity. They learn to know and honor individuality in whatever form it appears. The fountains of creative activity are discovered and released. The free individuality which is the source of art is also the final source of creative development in time.
Where are they from?
African baby figures have been labelled ‘dolls’ in literature and art exhibitions. The term ‘doll’ comes from outside the communities that created these figures. The communities from which these figures originate do not call them dolls. They call them ‘babies’ or ‘children’. Namji dolls were created by the Namji tribe of Cameroon, hence the name. They date as far back as 1940. Cameroon is located in Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west and north; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south.
The Namji people inhabit an area in the West of the north Cameroon. This tribe is famous for their wooden dolls carved with geometric features and adorned with multi-colored bead necklaces.
What were they used for?
Also known as Dowayo Dolls, these dolls’ structure had a great significance rooted in the continuity of life. The way they chiseled and shaped the man dolls, to the curves of the African woman represented on the woman dolls, and the size of the children’s dolls all carved from African Rosewood, shows a characteristic of African art that is the creative expressionism over realism, the prevalence of images and sculpture of the human figure with larger focus on sculpture and representations.
Namji dolls are fertility dolls given to brides during a wedding ceremony. Made from a single block with no attachments, each doll is carved with a unique stature and facial expression. Ancient Africans used to connect to nature, understand her and live symbiotically without destroying her as they believed she was powerful. The Namji believed that these dolls were made with potent charms that enhanced the bride’s fertility, and warded off evil spirits that caused infertility and difficult labour. The safe delivery of these babies also depended on the Namji doll.
They were also given to young girls for role play. This way, they underwent training on nature and nurture at a very young age, and taking care of these wooden representations of babies was very important in their formative years. They were basically supposed to treat the dolls the way they would a real child.
The girls needed to commit to feeding them, bathing them, wearing them clothes, and sleeping with them. The girls were allowed to play with these dolls even till puberty, as it was believed that such role-play greatly encourages girls to prepare for their future roles as mothers.
The dolls were also used as marriage proposals! How romantic! This was a promise from the man to the woman, of continuity of their love through heirs. The man would gift a doll to the girl he wants to marry and if she accepts it, it meant that she had accepted his proposal. She then carries the doll around as a fertility doll, and as soon as she has a child, she bequeaths the doll to her daughter. This practice was a sacred handing over from mother to daughter, with hopes of the same fruitfulness from the later generation. Carrying a Namji doll during a hunt symbolized good luck for the hunters.
More recently, because of their authenticity and cultural heritage, Namji Dolls have been collected worldwide and used as decorative pieces for homes and offices. The value they have has made collectors fall in love with the ancient history and culture of the Namji doll’s origin. The great artists of the Namji tribe.
There is no finer doll in Africa; and steeping into tradition, culture, rich beliefs and the force of nature’s manifest, this amazing art can either stand alone or come in a group.
Most people buy them to represent a nuclear family - father, mother and child/children; while others but them as single pieces that literally stand out when placed in a room or as gifts to your loved ones. That should definitely brighten a life!
You could also decide to collect them, because not one piece is the same as the other. Hence the value in authenticity. Put it on your living room shelf, bedside table, bathroom centre, your coffee table, next to your favorite books, beside a bunch of frames to bring that pop! Your imagination is your canvas. Decor... valuable, natural, sustainable decor with context and essence. It’s all good luck, good vibes and Inshallah.
Gift yourself…Love yourself. Immerse yourself in culture… believe me, the trip is worth it, and for a lifetime.