Mossi Biiga Fertility Doll
- Tribe: Mossi
- Origin: Burkina Faso
- Approx Age: Mid 20C
- Materials: Wood, Leather
- Dimensions cm: 33 Tall
- Ref. Number: 0145
The Mossi Biiga Fertility Doll figure is washed and dressed and carried on the back just like a real child would be. If it is damaged, the biiga is taken to the local diviner for attention. The biiga is passed on from mother to daughter or from sister to sister. All Mossi dolls have a cylindrical base that is slightly wider than the body. It is carved without legs or arms but has accentuated breasts which are a symbol of motherhood. The head is a stylization of the gyonfo, a female hairdo; The Mossi Biiga fertility doll also features scarification patterns that are realistic and found on the Mossi people themselves. For a similar example see Roy, Christopher & Thomas G. B. Wheelock, Burkina Faso Land of the Flying Masks. The Thomas G. B. Wheelock Collection, 2007,figs. 478-48
This girl is from a village in the Mossi country of Burkina Faso (a landlocked country in West Africa). The doll she is holding is a traditional wooden figurine made from one piece of wood standing on a broader base. The doll displays the characteristics of an adult woman, with suggestions of facial features and elaborate hairstyles, and usually with mature female breasts that represent the fulfillment of motherhood. Scarification [scarring] patterns on the body that traditionally mark passage to adulthood are also represented by carved patterns. Mossi dolls are typically carved by male blacksmiths and are given to girls for play. The child calls it biiga (“child”), and carries the doll about with her, tucking it into the waistband of her skirt, and pretends to feed, wash and groom it. Sometimes it is adorned with beads, cowrie shells, dressed with pieces of leather or cloth, and the girl might bring it wildflowers. In the market, a girl may place her doll on the edge of a merchant’s mat and expect to receive a small sample of the wares—a few peanuts, a pastry, or a piece of fruit.
Mossi dolls are also the focus of rituals associated with motherhood. When a young girl displays her doll to older women, they may respond, “May God give you many children.” At festivals, if a child gives her doll to an adult to hold, it is customary to give the child a small present when giving the doll back. Other rituals include the use of dolls to ensure fertility in marriage (accomplished by giving the doll a name). Handling the doll with care is seen as auspicious for childbearing and survival of children. Before the marriage ceremony, a young woman carries the doll on her back to the market, and a few days after marriage, she is given some straw in place of the doll and asked which sex her first child will be. Mossi dolls are passed down through female generations, and before a woman gives birth, she washes the doll she played with in childhood before washing her own baby. Similarly, the first drops of milk are given to the doll, and it is again carried on the mother’s back before the infant is placed there for the first time. According to reports culled by anthropologists, these rituals were to ensure that the newborn infant’s soul enters the world of its parents, called yisa biiga, or “to call the child,” and “to prevent the child from returning,” or gidga ti da biiga lebera me, to the world of the ancestral spirits. Women who remain childless after a few years of marriage use the dolls for votive purposes, adorning them with cowry shells and carrying them everywhere while expressing their wish for a child.1
1 Christopher D. Roy, “Mossi Dolls,” African Arts 14, no. 4 (August 1981): 47-88.
Photograph: Burkina Faso, 2006, village of Dablo, little girl with her doll, # EPV0645.JPG, Art and Life in Africa Project, The University of Iowa, The School of Art and Art History, “Changing Burkina” (accessed November 23, 2009). Annotated by Susan Douglas
These Mossi dolls are executed in different materials, but mostly in wood, hence their name raog’biga (child in wood) or rad’kaba (children in wood). their form is varied according to the region they come from, such as Yako, Ouagadougou, Koupela, Ouahigouya. The main characteristic of these dolls is that they are female; none of male sex has been seen.
Serving as educational toys, they are dressed, washed, carried on the back, or placed on the mat, etc., all being activities for education of the child as ‘mother’ of the doll, carried on under the watching eyes of the mother, aunt, or grandmother. The young ‘girl-mother’ considers the doll a child (biga) and has to play close attention to it. Hense, any damage to the doll, although accidental, calls for consultation with the diviner, who knows invisible things hidden from ordinary people. For this reason, the Mossi dolls are handled with great care.