Dolls are a common item within many cultures, however, Native American dolls play a particularly important role within the different Native American tribes. These intricately made, hand crafted Native American dolls are a customary component of Native American culture.
History of Native American Dolls
Traditionally, Native American dolls were made by the women and young girls within the tribes. These Native American dolls have various purposes and alternating roles of significance within each culture. Different tribes will often use different materials to make these Native American dolls such as cornhusks or pine needles. Each tribe often has their own specific styles and techniques of making Native American dolls.
Although in Western culture, dolls are usually considered purely a toy or item to play with, and rarely hand crafted, in Native American tribes, Native American dolls are used both as an item for children to entertain themselves with, but even more importantly, are used as an educational tool. Dolls often come out of stories or legends; specific types of Native American dolls have special meanings and significance.
Oftentimes, the faces of Native American dolls appear either somewhat skewed, distorted or sometimes have no face at all. Some Native American dolls are made to symbolize specific people within the tribe or to represent certain spirits. Native American dolls are usually dressed in detailed clothing, decorated with beadwork, similar to the clothing of the tribe.
The hair used to decorate Native American dolls usually comes from either human or animal hair. Navajo dolls are often adorned with turquoise colored beads; these turquoise necklaces and earrings symbolize wealth within the Navajo community. Other dolls, such as the Kachina doll is made to represent a spirit. Generally carved from wood, Kachina dolls are intricately designed, using advanced wood carving skills.
Native American Dolls Today
In present day Western culture, Native American dolls are often considered collector’s items. Many Native American dolls can be found featured as part of museum or art exhibits. Native American dolls are still crafted today as a way to continue to teach young children about their history.
Within the Native American culture, dolls are used to represent and teach children how they will grow up and contribute to their tribe. For example, sometimes female dolls are made carrying a child on their backs, representing the women caring for her child. Other female dolls will be seen holding woven baskets, whereas male dolls will often be made holding a bow and arrow.