Unlike regular dolls, African dolls are not just toys for younger girls. These objects depict a community’s religious beliefs and ritual practices. Commonly, you can tell the region some African dolls originated from by the costume they were dressed in and their shape. In most tribes, a mother gives her African doll to her daughter who, in her turn, would then pass it on to another successor.
The Ndebele of Zimbabwe are among the tribes that make traditional use of African dolls. The tribe, while small, is widely recognized for their artistry and deep love for beauty and color, made evident by their extraordinary homes and clothing. The African dolls of the Ndebele are dressed similarly as the women of this tribe who wear colorful clothing, adorned with intricate beaded patterns.
African Ndebele dolls are made to symbolize the status of the women of the tribe or some important events that are happening in their lives. Some of these events that are reflected in the designs of these dolls include the following:
African dolls with colorful apron-like dresses wrapped around their waists represent Ndebele girls who have already completed the rites of puberty and are marriageable. In preparation for marriage, these young women are given dolls that must be named and cared for as if they were real girls. And when the firstborn arrives; he will be named after the doll.
The courtships within the Ndebele tribe are initiated by the suitor who puts a doll outside the hut of the girl he wishes. The doll serves as an icon of man’s purest intentions to propose marriage.
African dolls meaning women who are engaged to get married are adorned with adorable black beaded hoops encasing their tiny lives.
Ndebele brides are represented by African dolls wearing a finely detailed beaded length hanging from their shoulders. A beautiful veil adorned with multicolored beads covers their faces. The dowry that the families of the brides who are five head of cattle receive is represented by the five-panel skirt worn by the Ndebele brides.
In the months of wela or initiation of the Ndebele boys in the mountains, their mothers wear the linga koba along with their nguba blanket for married women. Linga koba are long strands of beads that extend into the ground to symbolize tears. These women mourn with grief over the loss of the boys they raised and with joy at having gained a man. These women are represented by African Ndebele dolls wearing the same costume.
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