Monday, January 5, 2015

Mom Du Jos the Story of the Little Black Doll

Mom Du Jos doll by I. Roberta Bell and book of the same name by Erick Berry

What came first, the doll or the book?  For me, the doll came first.  Mom Du Jos, the doll, was an eBay win in November of this year.  I maintain an active eBay saved search to be notified of new listings of dolls by artist I. Roberta Bell, who was the first African American member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists having been inducted during the 1970s.  I am currently researching her work. 

When I saw Mom Du Jos on eBay, I named and claimed him, as I do for dolls I feel are must-haves.  From the seller's description, I learned this 13-inch doll with baked clay head and hands and brown cloth body was fashioned after the character in the book of the same name by Erick Berry, copyright 1931.  An immediate search for a copy of this book ensued.  After locating a few copies, I forwarded two buy links to my son in an email with the subject line: Christmas I Want.

The inside cover of the book shows girls admiring the doll after his last adventure. The title page shows how the doll's face is illustrated and the turban he wore throughout the book.

As illustrated, the book was indeed one of my Christmas presents from my son.


Doll's handwritten hang tag written on a folded index card is attached to his wrist with a white pipe cleaner.

The doll's hang tag, dated October 3, 1980, notes in the artist's handwriting that he is an exclusive original  fashioned after the character in the book.  The doll and original fez were made by Bell.  The costume of riga (kimono-type top) and wando (trousers) were fashioned after those worn by the book's character by Falcon Garth. 
The scars on Mom Du's cheeks are symbols of beauty.

Bell also gave Mom Du the facial scarification, the book describes, worn by Haussas, a people of northern Nigeria and southern Niger.  Upon arrival to me, and as indicated in the seller's description, Mom Du was missing his fez.  I knew, even before his arrival, that I could remedy that. 

The book also describes a white turban worn by the doll throughout numerous unwanted and adventurous relocations he encounters at the hands of various African animals and separately by two African girls who both loved him dearly.  I have replaced the red fez the book describes with a red knit cap, over which a gauze turban has been fashioned to replicate the cheesecloth turban described in the book.

The red stocking cap is a temporary replacement for the red fez the book describes.

The gauze white turban worn now will eventually be replaced by one made of cheesecloth.


In the book, the doll, whose full name is Moham Adu Jos, was a Louisiana transplant to Africa, possibly by way of travel with his original owner, a doll maker, who was referred to throughout the book as The Lady in the White Sun Helmet. After his separation from her and the series of relocations that followed, Mom Du eventually returns to the loving hands of the Lady in the White Sun Hat.  One of the little African girls, in whose hands he landed prior to his return, becomes the owner's doll-making assistant.



My first blog post about I. Roberta Bell, from 2009, recently updated, can be read here


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11 comments:

  1. Hi Debbie, the book and the doll are so great, congratulations with your finds! You made an excellent turban too :-)!

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    1. Thank you, Night Owl. I have since made him another turban from a heavier weighted material, but I actually like the first one I made better. I have to continue to work with this one to get it wrapped to my satisfaction.

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  2. Fabulous gift! Wonderful son! Happy New Year!

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    1. Happy New Year, Lee! Thanks for the congrats!

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  3. What an interesting doll with an interesting history (and a wonderful Christmas gift)!

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    1. Thank you jSarie! I treasure the book as much as I do the doll. :-)

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  4. LOL, How succinct! "Christmas, I want." I need to take lessons from you. Congrats on getting him.

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  5. I just gave him a dose of his own medicine. He and his sister used to send emails with images and buy links of their Christmas wants. I just flipped the script.

    This post did not include his reply to my email request.

    His reply:
    greed \ˈgrēd\ noun - a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed

    In spite of his insinuation that I have more dolls than I need, he purchased the Mom Du Jos book (I purchased the doll). He also purchased a doll/book combination that my "Christmas I Want" email included.

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  6. Well, this particular item was enrichment of the doll hobby, and not MORE DOLLS. There is a subtle difference there! So he was enabling your increased enjoyment of your dolls, which is actually VERY ECONOMICAL. Besides, you are a doll educator, so this is part of your research material, with which you can enrich the doll-interested. He is contributing to the knowledge wealth of the community thereby. (Can you tell I've worked as a copyeditor and proofreader for promotional agencies and marketing departments?)

    But as concerns wanting MORE dolls---If you love art (and dolls, as you enjoy them, are quite evidently art)---you always want MORE ART. Any good member of the Guggenheim family could tell you that!

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    1. I love how well you have justified and explained my need to acquire additional three-dimensional works of art. I do consider some research as they are used in my writing for hobby and professionally.

      The problem is: I have so many other 3D inanimate objects in need of new homes to beautify. I remain confident that slowly, but surely I will sell the "pieces" that have edified me to their fullest and can continue in that vein in the possession of others.

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    2. I like that philosophy. That's one of the big differences between people who are actively enjoying their items and "hoarders"...there is only so much room, only so much attention span, only so much time...if someone else can be enjoying something you are simply "over", then it should be "released into the wild" of Ebay again!

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