Beaded Fertility Doll
Namji People, Cameroon
height: approximately 24cm, width: approximately 14cm
This wooden doll from the Namji people of north-western Cameroon is in a highly stylised, geometric human form. Its proportionately small head is incised with a stark facial expression on both sides. One of the two faces has red beads as eyes; the eyes on the other side are hollow.
The torso is wrapped with a cloth and adorned by multiple strings of red and yellow beads. Brass cowrie-shaped bells and key-shaped ornaments are attached to the bead strings. The wrists and ankles also are adorned with red and yellow bead strings.
Dolls such as these were given to young Namji girls as a play thing but also to ready her for a later motherhood role. Caring for such dolls also was thought to promote fertility. Often such dolls were worn strapped to the back like a real infant.
Occasionally 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
nganga, who performed 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.
UK art market.
Bacquart, J. B., The Tribal Arts of Africa, Thames and Hudson, 1998; and Sotheby’s Paris, ‘Collections Andrea Portago, Roger Vanthournout, Helmut Zake et divers amateurs: Art Afrique, d’Océanie et des Amériques’, lot 154, page 138, June 23, 2006.
Inventory no.: 1047
This item is accompanied by a custom-made stand.