Ndebele Dolls

Name:  Ndebele Dolls

About Ndebele Dolls: Women of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa make Ndebele dolls. Their costumes represent their meaning or status. The heads are spherical. Some have cone-shaped bodies without feet. The unmarked dolls in this installation were made by South African women or girls in the late-twentieth century. The eyes and hair are beaded. The tallest doll in this installation has yarn hair adorned with beads. Three of the four dolls have a row of vertical beads in the center of the black-fabric faces. The rings around the dolls’ necks symbolize the Ndebele’s use of neck rings to stretch their necks.

Sangoma Ndebele Doll (from the collection of Elinor Seevak, donated to the museum by Ms. Seevak’s daughter, Alison)

Material: Fabric, beads, metal, and yarn

Height: 43 inches

Body: Fabric-covered cone-shaped body is covered with four sewn-on bands of white, green, brown, and blue fabric with a black fabric base (no feet). The body is adorned with beads with 11 silver metal neck and arm rings. The moveable arms are decorated with beads.

Other: According to the Folk Art Museum of Central Texas, “To the Ndebele People, the Sangoma doll is a diviner who claims contact with ancestral spirits. It is believed that she receives the will of the spirits. The Sangoma is referred to as the protector of society and her opinion and judgment are highly valued.”

Initiation Doll (1996)

Material:  Metal, beads, cloth, faux leather, and wood

Height: 14-1/2 inches

Body: Has six silver neck rings, a colorful wool blanket wraps around the torso and extends to the upper legs. Wears a beaded apron skirt with faux leather in the back; has multiple beads at the ankles and on the shoes. The legs are wrapped with silver metal rings.

Other: Made by South African Tribeswomen, an Ndebele Initiation doll is given to a girl after the initiation ceremony that celebrates her reaching “teenage hood,” which means, according to the accompanying card, “she is now old enough to be a mother.  It is wished that she should marry a man as handsome as the doll.  The glass, beaded apron symbolizes the happy marriage.  The blanket is for warmth in the future.” 

Ceremonial Doll (circa 2003)

Material:  Felt over cardboard, beads, metal, and wire

Height: 12 inches

Body: Three neck rings, cone-shaped body with sculpted breasts, no feet

Other: The Ceremonial doll “is used during courtship for the Ndebele people. A suitor would place a doll outside a young woman’s hut indicating his intention to propose marriage” (Folk Art Museum).

Linga Koba (circa 2003)

Material:  Felt, beads, metal, wire, wood

Height: 10 inches

Body: Five neck rings, felt blanket covers torso to upper legs, wears a beaded apron that is attached to a black faux leather skirt, has no arms. Legs are wrapped in small gauge wire with beads at the ankles. The feet are made of wood covered in black cloth.

Other: A Linga Koba doll is given to a mother as comfort when her son undergoes his initiation rites. 


Folk Art Museum

Read more about Ndebele dolls here.



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Published by DeeBeeGee

Doll collector, historian, co-founder of the first e-zine devoted to collecting black dolls; author of black-doll reference books, doll blogs, and doll magazine articles.

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