Engaging with Dolls and with Play in Rural Southwest Angola





artefact-based research, ethnography, play, domestic economy, material culture, rural, Angola, agro-pastoralism


An intricate relationship between ritual and play has dominated the topic of African dolls in museums on account of historical field ethnographies based on a ritual-focused agenda. My doll-focused research agenda, grounded on eight months of fieldwork in an agro-pastoralist highland village in Namibe, proposes an alternative engagement to that of earlier scholars working in Southwest Angola. Engaging with dolls handmade by children in the said fieldwork setting, I combine information about dolls housed in museum collections with the social and material life of these artefacts in the region of their making. Privileging play, I discuss children’s engagements with dolls made from corncobs, thus offering a critical review of ethnographic approaches that constrain these dolls under differing concerns with ritual. Attending to young children’s participation in the dynamics of a subsistence domestic economy, I reconnect the material and social dimensions of doll use through children’s voices and practices, and argue that we may link children’s engagements with available materials and devices to the imaginative worlds they develop while growing up in a context organised around subsistence livelihood concerns.