Native American Dolls
Just like with dolls from any culture and time, Native American dolls serve a number of purposes and represent various values and legends. Not all dolls are made for children although some dolls are made specifically for children.
Children’s dolls were not designed to be keepsakes but to be something for the child to actively play with. Often the dolls were made out of corn husks or other organic materials such as wood. The doll would often fall apart by the time the child outgrew the doll. Even so, the dolls were adorned painstakingly with bits of cloth, fur, beads and other adornments. Dolls were used to teach children of the appropriate dress and cultural practices so girls were given cradleboards and sewing supplies with their dolls while boys were given warrior gear, bows and arrows and the like.
Other dolls such as spirit dolls and kachinas were made for a specific person, ceremony, power, totem, entity or prayer.
Spirit dolls are ancient talismans against all negativity and evil. They embody spirits that have gone before, representing their strengths, positive energies, and beauty.
Apache artist, Cynthia Whitehawk creates various Spirit Dolls. Raven Medicine – Ravens carry great responsibility to Spirit and are the messengers of magic and healing from the universe where all knowledge waits for us. Raven also symbolizes changes in consciousness, of levels of awareness and perception. Necklace beads of sky blue turquoise, coral and sterling silver with hand painted bone raven feather pendant. She wears a genuine tiny beaded medicine bag – inside are rare Sacred Arizona Sweet Sage, Sacred Golden Tobacco, and tiny polished clear Quartz gemstones. These contents keep her energy clear, positive and powerful.
Raven Dream Keeper is keeper of the eternal flame of life, Medicine Healing Spirit, Spirit of the Bird Clans. There are several Bird Clans depending on tribal affiliation. The Cherokee Bird Clan are messengers between earth and heaven – between humans and the Creator. The Cherokee Bird Clan has 3 subdivisions: The Raven, Turtle Dove, and Eagle. The Raven, a large Crow, is governed by Crow Medicine. The Crow is the power of the unknown at work – ceremonial magic and healing. Raven Dream Keeper wears a necklace of tiny shell birds for her connectedness to the Bird Clan.
Raven Spirit Doll by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk
Grandmother Medicine – Grandmother Shaman guides with the ancient wisdom and practical knowledge, ever the kindest of souls, ever the most helpful, a quieting and soothing presence. Her medicine bag is adorned with coral and turquoise. It contains a rich mixture of smudging herbs and resin, sage and golden tobacco with tiny clear quartz stones.The carved tiny shell birds represent the ancient following of the Bird Clan. The gourd represents the vessels made from gourd, gourds which carried water and food for life. She wears a beaded talisman/amulet which is a carved turquoise bear, silver beads and penn shell heishi.
Crystal Keeper Medicine Woman – Her necklaces are quartz and silver beads and large natural quartz points. She wears a tiny medicine bag beaded with quartz and silver beads. The bag contains Sacred Sweet Sage, Sacred Golden Tobacco, and tiny polished clear Quartz gemstones. These contents keep her energy clear, positive and powerful.
Grandmother Shaman: Gourd Dance Clan – Her necklace is of sky blue and coral red old glass beads, silver and a tiny gourd, which represents the rattle made from a gourd in the Gourd Dance Clan.
The Gourd Dance was given to the Kiowa in the 1700s by a red wolf when the Kiowa inhabited the Black Hills and Devils Tower area of South Dakota and Wyoming. The dance was a gift to the Kiowa people and the songs and dances were performed by a specific society until the 1930s – with a good wolf howl at the end of each song in tribute to the red wolf. Thankfullly, before the tradition was lost, some Kiowa elders revived the Gourd Dance in the mid 1950s and officially formed the Gourd Dance Clan.
The No Face Doll
The No Face doll has its origin in the corn-growing Northeastern tribes as the dolls were traditionally made of cornhusks, with darkened corn silk for the hair.
As legend has it, Corn Spirit, sustainer of life, asked the Creator for more ways to help her people. The Creator formed dolls from her husks, giving the dolls a beautiful face. When the children of the Iroquois pass the dolls from village to village and from child to child, her beauty was proclaimed so often that the corn husk doll became very vain. The Creator disapproved of such behavior and so told the doll that if she was going to continue being part of the culture, she would need to develop humility.
The doll agreed but couldn’t help but admire her own reflection in a creek. The all-seeing Creator, sent a giant screech owl down from the sky to snatch the doll’s reflection from the water. She could no longer see her face or bask in her superior beauty.
Lakota No Face Doll by Diane Tells His Name
So when a Northeast Native American mother gives a doll to her child, it is usually a doll with no face and the mother tells the child the legend of the Corn-Husk doll. Native Americans want their children to value the unique gifts that the Creator has given to each of them, but not to view themselves as superior to another, or to overemphasize physical appearance at the expense of spiritual and community values.
Read more about Corn and Corn Maidens on our blog.
Lakota No Face Dolls
Similar to the Northeaster tribes, the Plains tribes often use No Face dolls to instill humility in their children.
Since the Great Plains tribe members’ own clothing was often elaborately covered with intricate beadwork, so were the dolls. Lakota Dolls are beautifully adorned and depending on the activity they represent, they can be outfitted with various equipment and items such as baskets, cradleboards or knives and hunting tools.
Beauty of Autumn No Face Lakota Doll by Diane Tells His Name
Lakota Dolls are traditionally made from buckskin. The bodies are stuffed with cattail fluff or buffalo hair.
The hair is usually horse hair or buffalo hair.
Why do Native American dolls have long hair? As legend has it, when you die, if you don’t hear your name called, you can’t cross over to the other side. So, just in case you don’t hear your name when it is called, if you have long hair, someone on the other side can grab your long hair and pull you over.
Meant to resemble Navajo Men and Women in ordinary dress, Navajo dolls are meant to be played with or collected.
Navajo Dolls by Loretta Wood, Navajo aritst
Navajo women are usually outfitted in a cloth dress or skirt and top and embellished with jewelry made of turquoise, silver and shell.
The dress is traditionally made of velvet, cotton or muslin embellished with rick rack trim and cinched with a woven or embroidered sash.
Necklaces are often sewn right onto the dress. Earrings are often beaded loop earrings
Large Vintage Navajo Doll
Men appear in traditional muslin pants, bright colored shirt (often velvet) and a cinched sash like belt.
Hair for the dolls is often made of mohair, wool or yarn.
The hands are often made of leather. The face is fabric and the facial features are painted on.
Navajo dolls might just be standing or they could be involved in an activity from everyday life such as weaving, cooking, or sewing.
What fun it was to put together this doll article for my first real post back at it !!