Dolls are widely used in African cultures not just as toys but as a fertility charm
. Aside from these main purposes, they are also used for education, entertainment and various other different customs. This may include the ‘death doll’ – a doll which may be carved after someone, particularly a child, has died in order to bring comfort to the bereaved or guard the deceased’s spirit. The Dogon
people of Mali are particularly famous for their masked death dances which also involve the use of specially carved and decorated dolls representing the dead. The dances are seen as a confrontation with death and an important funerary ritual
, bringing peace to the bereaved and allowing the souls of the dead to pass smoothly into the afterlife.
Mali is a landlocked republic in Western Africa, and despite great economic growth in recent years is one of the poorest countries in the world. Home to around 14.5 million people, it was under control of the French during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and its population is made up of numerous ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Bambara, and who are mostly rural. Mali has many ancient customs and traditions and is particularly famous for its music and dance.