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African Dolls, for Play and MagicLast week I was able to get my hands onto a book I wanted to read for some time.
African Dolls, for Play and Magic was written by Esther A. Dagan, an amazing author that has 13 books published about African art, most of them out of print, and I hope to be able to read them all at some point.
This particular book is a catalog of all types of dolls from the African continent and goes from Senegal and Guinea in the West to Ethiopia and Somalia in the East, showcasing a total of 35 countries.
It’s probably one of the first books to explore the art of doll making in Africa, a subject that has been long neglected.
In Africa dolls are not only used for playing but also for religious and ritual needs, so there are two classes of dolls, toy dolls for girls and magical dolls for women. The variety in shape, function and material is amazing.
African DollsNowadays in African countries, there are indigenous dolls but also imported dolls that children use for playing. Since there is a big demand for “traditional” dolls, the market is inundated with copies of these to sell to tourists, some of them are re-creations of ancient dolls and some are fake dolls that pretend to pass for real ones.
The book is written both in English and French with the first pages dedicated to describe dolls in Africa and their function and characteristics. Then you’ll find a map of the different regions and their dolls and pictures of the dolls themselves and their descriptions. It includes a couple of traditional dolls from Ethiopia that I have never seen before.
I like this book but I wish the pictures where in color to fully appreciate the dolls. The black and white photos, some of them look like cheap photocopies, don’t do any justice to the beautiful dolls. However, there is another book I will review soon Isn’t S/He a Doll? that has extraordinary full color photographs of the some of the same dolls.

Ethiopian Doll - Shewa region - Musee de L'homme, France