Indian Dolls

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Indian dolls were common among all the American tribes. They were fashioned from stone, wood, clay, skin, dough, corncobs, plants, and rags. Those used merely as playthings were frequently elaborately dressed by the mother in accordance with tribal costumes. Human hair was sometimes fastened to the head and arranged in the tribal style, the face was painted, the eyebrows were marked, and tattoo lines were indicated. Labrets of bone or shell were put in place among the tribes which used these objects, and the doll was further adorned with ear rings, bracelets, and necklaces. The Eskimo father carved the small bone or ivory dolls more or less elaborately, and made them stand upright, to the great delight of the children. Among these people there was a festival in which small figures or dolls were used to represent the dead, at which time the people prepared and partook of food in their presence in memory of the time when those represented were living. The corncob and rag dolls were usually of the child s own manufacture. Those made of dough were used in a social ceremony among the Iroquois. Dolls were provided with cradles, clothing, tents, and vessels and utensils of clay.

In the S. W. and the extreme N. little figures were made for ceremonies in which mythic ancestors or dead relatives were remembered. Travelers have sometimes mistaken these figures for idols. Among the Hopi these little figures are of soft cotton wood, so cut and painted as to indicate in miniature the elaborate head dress, decorated face, body, and clothing of those who represent kachinas, or impersonations of ancestral breath bodies or spirits of men. These dolls are not worshipped, but are made by the priests in their kivas during the great spring ceremonies as presents for the little girls, to whom they are presented on the morning of the last day of the festival by men personating kachinas (Fewkes). In this way the young become familiar with the complicated and symbolic masks, ornaments, and garments worn during tribal and religious ceremonies. See Indian Amusements, Child life, Games.

Consult Dorsey and Voth in Field Columb. Mus. Publ., 55 and 66; Fewkes in 17th, 19th, and 21st Reps. B. A. E., and Iriternat. Archiv. Ethnog., vii, 1894; Mooney in 17th Rep. B. A. E., 1898; Nelson in 18th Rep. B. A. E., 1899; Turner in 11th Rep. B. A. E., 1894. (A. C. F.)

MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. Web. 27 January 2015. - Last updated on Jul 18th, 2012


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