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Namji Beaded Fertility Doll

Namji Beaded Fertility Doll

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Namji people, late 20th century, Cameroon

Fascinating wooden Namji fertility doll embellished with leather, iron blades, red and blue glass beads, large seeds, gris gris amulets, beans, goat horn and textile strips. Its proportionately small head is incised with a distinct facial expression in both sides. White beads attached as eyes. Namji (called also Dowayo, Doayo, Namchi, Namshi) is the people inhabiting an area in the north Cameroon. The Namji people is famous for their wooden dolls carved with geometric features and adorned with colorful bead necklaces, cowrie shells, coins, amulets, metal strips, leather and fabrics.

Dolls used in conjunction with magical practise for the gracing a women with fertility are referred as fertility dolls. The Namji dolls are considered among the finest and the most beautiful dolls in Africa. Young girls carry the dolls strapped on their backs and treat the dolls like their babies, feeding them, bathing them, wearing the clothes, and sleeping with them. The girls are allowed to play with these dolls even till puberty. It is believed that such role-play greatly encourages girls to prepare for their future roles as mother. Ocassionally such dolls were given to infertile women in the hope that it would aid with pregnancy. They were commissioned from a carver for this purpose after which they were taken to the tribe's diviner. The diviner (nganga) performs rituals to inject force and respect (nkinda) into the doll. In this event, such dolls became fetish objects and were provided with food offerings and care so that its power would not wane.

Wooden doll are in moderate condition. One arm missing. Age-related wear and signs of use. Beautiful patina. Size approx. 24,0cm x 10,5cm x 9,5cm.

Provenance: Dutch private collection.

References and further reading:

Isn't S/He a Doll: Play and Ritual in African Sculpture, Elisabeth Lynn Cameron & Doran H. Ross, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1996.

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