H: 31 cm (H: 12.2 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X88.1024
Yoruba dolls called omolangidi (child of wood) are play things for young girls, who carry them on their backs held in place by a baby wrapper. The heads range in form from highly abstract to very naturalistic. The dolls are limbless with flat, generally rectangular torsos that allow them to rest comfortably against the child’s back. According to Roslyn Walker (1994:80), these dolls also cross functional boundaries: “In addition to being toys, omolangidi may also be used as substitutes for memorial figures representing deceased twins (ere ibeji). ” The torsos of many figures are undecorated, while more elaborate examples may feature relief carving on one side. A number of the latter depict rows of the writing tablets used to teach children Arabic and the Koran. The more abstract omolangidi are clearly derived from these writing tablets, their schematic shape undoubtedly an accommodation to the Islamic proscription against the representation of the human form. Marylin Houlberg describes a similar simplification of form from the typical ibeji as an adaptation to both Islam and Christianity. The writing-tablet shape as either a free-standing doll or as relief carving on a doll also emphasizes the value placed on the education of children in Yoruba society.
Source: Cameron, Elisabeth L. (1996) “Isn’t S/He a Doll?”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 70