Monday, July 31, 2017

Baby DeiDei Clonette x6


The six colorful dolls shown above are Clonette dolls or baby DeiDei (day-day) dolls.   These were purchased following customer service communication with Tree House Kid and Craft to inquire if additional dolls would be stocked online.  At the time of our communication, their website indicated all dolls were sold out.  I was told they had no plans to restock but they could arrange a purchase from their sister store.


After completing the purchase transaction for the remaining six dolls in stock at the sister store, I was sent the above photo of five of the six and was told there would be two "bright yellow" baby DeiDei dolls.  I was excited!

A large red Clonette is featured on the cover jacket of Isn't S/he A Doll?

I discovered Clonette dolls several years ago after reading about them and seeing African children and one Yoruba woman with them in the book, Isn’t S/he a Doll?  Play and Ritual in African Sculpture by Elisabeth Lynn Cameron and Doran H. Ross.  The book provides a thorough exploration of different types of African dolls and some non-African dolls that have crossed borders.   The book outlines the dolls' usage for play or ritual.  The next three images are Clonettes that appear in the above-mentioned book, wherein they are described as "plastic doll(s)."


The incidence of twin births is high amongst Yoruba peoples with some births unfortunately resulting in the death of one twin.  In the above 1970s photograph of a Yoruba woman, a Clonette is used as an ere ibeji to represent a deceased twin (ah!  the name clone-tte makes sense).  In the photograph, the woman carries the surviving twin on her back and the Clonette is carried in front of her body.  Ere ibeji figures are traditionally carved for grieving Yoruba mothers; however, as evidenced by this photograph, commerically-produced dolls are also used for this purpose.

The caption from the book for this photograph reads:  Commercially produced dolls used as ere ibeji.  Yoruba peoples, Nigeria.  Plastic, metal.  Taller 25 cm [height 25 cm].

Above left, an Asante girl holds a Clonette-type doll.  Plastic dolls [Clonettes] for sale in a market in Ghana are illustrated on the right.


I had no idea I would ever own even one Clonette until a fellow collector shared a link to the Tree House website where they are described as follows:

These sweet plastic dollies, known as Clonette dolls, or baby DeiDei dolls, are a significant part of African history and have become quite the collector's item! Modeled after colorful traditional wooden and grass dolls, these little girls were the first industrially produced doll in Africa and have been made from recycled plastics in Ghana since the 1950's. Often given as a gift to expectant mothers, Clonette Dolls are said to be a totem of good luck and act as a guardian for babies and children. Their retro look and pop art colors have made them popular the world over. When squeezed, baby DeiDei makes a squeaking sound, adding yet another element of charm to this already-fascinating doll. [https://treehousekidandcraft.com/products/deidei-doll?variant=14709626116]

Each baby DeiDei has a squeaker, visible in this image on the top-center of their heads, which makes a squeaking sound when the stomach is pressed.

Around the Internet Clonettes are priced from $10.50 to over $40 each.  Sizes vary.  My dolls are 8 inches tall.

A facial close-up image illustrates baby DeiDei's features.

Baby DeiDei holds a molded bunny rabbit.

The dolls have molded hair, clothing, socks, and shoes and hold a molded bunny rabbit.  They essentially are very inexpensively made squeeze toys.  Their thin plastic is reminiscent of the celluloid carnival toys of yesteryear.   

Streaked!
As indicated, I purchased the six remaining baby DeiDeis the store had in stock, but prior to their arrival I saw a photograph of only five of the dolls.  As it turns out, one of the yellow ones Tree House sold me has a blue streak that runs longitudinally from top to bottom.  After contacting the merchant about this and sharing the above photograph, I was given authorization (a free shipping label) to return the flawed doll for a full refund.  (According to Kristen at Tree House, the streaked ones are considered the most desirable by collectors.) I  later decided to keep it, but not for its value.  My initial plan was to dye it brown when time permits and after enough dolls are accumulated to justify creating a dye bath. After I showed the dolls to my husband, explained that these are the types of dolls some African children play with, and shared my plans to dye the streaked one, he said, “No, leave it the way it is.  This is the way the kids receive them, flawed.”  He has a valid point, but I would still like to own a brown Clonette because they are available in brown and black; Tree House was just sold out. 

I visited another website, which is devoted to the dolls (ClonetteDolls.com).  They describe their website and Clonettes as follows:

Clonette Dolls is an online shop dedicated to the Iconic Clonette Doll also known as Jacinda, Auntie & Baby DeiDei.

Originated in Ghana during the colonial era and were the first industrially produced doll in Africa. Inspired by traditional woven dolls usually made from wood, grass and fabric these bright colored dolls can still be seen at market stalls in West Africa but production is very limited.

They can be used as a perfect decorative & collector’s item piece.
They come in a collection of colours and different sizes ranging from small – large.  [http://clonettedolls.com/about/]



My 8-inch baby DeiDeis will probably be the only size I will ever own.  Whether or not the streaked one will eventually become brown (or black) is undetermined, but I am seriously leaning in that direction.

Now, enjoy, if you will, the results of a Google image search of a variety of Clonette dolls and a few images of African children with their "plastic dolls."

The Dallas Museum of Art has a fine example of a carved ere ibeji.  At the following link, read more about ere ibeji figures and the rituals involved in their use.


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16 comments:

  1. Hi Debbie, I hope you're doing well.
    What a fascinating doll and tradition. I always learn something totally unexpected thanks to your blog posts. I wonder how long mothers keep these dolls and what they do with them as time passes.
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and links.
    Take care :-) Big internet hug.

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    1. Hi Marchia,

      I am doing better with regard to the situation that kept me away.

      From my brief research on ere ibeji, it appears mothers keep them throughout their lives, caring for them as though they were alive. Text from the Dallas Museum website regarding the carved adult ere ibeji reads:

      "This figure of a fully developed adult actually represents a male twin who died as a child. The Yoruba people believe twins have special connections to the spiritual world. When a twin dies in childhood, a statue, called "ere ibeji," is carved as a representation and memorial. Believing that the twin's spirit lives on in the ere ibeji, the family treats the carving as if it were alive.

      "This "ere ibeji" is adorned with cowry shells, a form of currency used by the Yoruba and found in the Indian Ocean, and expensive glass beads from Europe. The figure's facial features have been rubbed away due to repeated washings, indicating that he has been well cared for by his family. Offerings and washings appease the deceased twin and keep him or her from returning to disrupt the family or claim his living sister or brother."

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    2. Thanks for explaining it. That's interesting. I didn't realize the families keep taking care of them for as long as they live. It's essentially a tiny,portable shrine. It makes sense that the wooden statuettes show the twin as an adult then.

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    3. You're welcome, Maricha. A tiny, portable shrine is a great way to describe ere ibeji figures.

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  2. Great post! I had never heard of these before. That is interesting that the streaked ones are the most sought after. I look forward to seeing your brown baby.

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    1. I learned something new with this purchase as well, GG. I am not sure if the flawed ones are necessarily collectible. Telling me that could have been the merchant's attempt to get me to keep it, but I have seen some on websites that were manufactured as striped dolls.

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    2. Oh wow!!! Now those striped ones are beautiful!!

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    3. I found the striped ones "interesting" at best. They sort of remind me of prison uniforms from back in the day.

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  3. Fascinating reading. I remember years ago coming across Mexican death dolls in a store and I really wanted to buy a couple but my mum thought they were a little morbid for a kid to own. I still want one. It's just amazing culturally all the things that a doll can represent across so many cultures and through the ages. Once again I learn something new. And can I vote to keep the stripe, whether it's collectible or not, I kind of like the variation. :)

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    1. The death dolls do sound a little morbid, Julius. I'll have to look those out to learn more. Without knowing the complete story, they bring to mind the Egyptian Shabti dolls that I wrote about some time ago. You can refresh your memory or read about them for the first time at the previous link.

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    2. Yes, your vote counts.

      I'm leaning toward leaving the striped one as is. I'll still keep an eye out for an authentically brown and black one. Then I'll be done.

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    3. It just popped into my head that I had the wrong country. They were a Peruvian death dolls or Chancay. They were thought to be funery offerings or companions for those that had passed. Here is a link so you can see what they look like and a bit of history: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/museum/object/2005_05_chancay_dolls now that I have another look I completely get where mum was coming from!! Still pretty intriguing. :)

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    4. Your Ushabti call out is spot on!! I actually have a teeny one my parents got me for a birthday once. I love Egyptian culture, and despite these posts promise I'm not gothic or morbid at all (I guess there must be an aspect of it though that interests me?!) just how humans have represented themselves has always interested me. ;)

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    5. I enjoyed learning about and seeing the Peruvian Chancay dolls. Their history is quite similar to the Egyptian Shabti dolls. I wonder how many other cultures have practiced the same principle of burying the dead with dolls.

      Our African American Museum has an exhibit of funerary artifacts consisting of mostly buttons, coins, jewelry, and other items that might have been considered valuables that had been buried with freed slaves (post Civil War) in a cemetery that had for years been neglected, a portion of which the North Central Expressway had been built on top of!

      "Back in the 1920s, Dallas City Planner George E. Kessler purchased The Houston and Texas Central Railroad (H&TC) and the Texas and Pacific Railroad (T&P), which ran through the heart of Freedman’s Town [where AA's settled after the Civil War]. By the 1940s, the railroad and the homes of 1,500 African Americans were replaced by the city’s first freeway. When plans to expand the freeway 50 years later, in the 1990s, were disrupted by the discovery of a body, the city realized they had paved over an acre’s worth of Freedman’s Cemetery."

      The recovered remains have since been reburied with a memorial now erected for them which is not far from the original graveyard. There are beautiful sculptures by David S. Newton at Freedman's Cemetery. See some of Newton's work at the memorial grounds here.

      I don't think your interest Chancay's is gothic or morbid. I'm not sure, however, that I would want to own a doll that had been buried with someone. I, however, would not mind having a doll buried with my body.

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  4. What a fascinating history behind these. I've definitely learned something today!

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    1. Thank you jSarie for taking the time to read about Clonette dolls. The backstory is fascinating.

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!