Dolls in Ancient Times

Since the beginning of civilization, man has modeled the human figure in effigy. These figures were not playthings as we know them today. Instead, they held great magico-religious significance, revealing man’s attempt to control the unknown. Some, like the kochina of the Hopi Indians, served as houses for the gods. Some were ancestor images, housing the spirits of dead members of the family who, though invisible, continued to participate in the life of the village. Still others, like the Egyptian ushabti, were grave images. They represented the slaves of the upper class and were placed in the tombs of their masters to relieve them of all manual labor in the hereafter.

A function of dolls, dating from ancient times but still practiced today, is to serve as votive images. By using an “ex voto” figure, persons could symbolically present themselves as offerings to the gods. Greek and Roman girls of marriageable age did this in ancient times. Today, the women of Bali carry temple dolls as their votive offerings. These are made of bamboo and have the wide, fan-shaped head-dress that the Balinese women wear in their ritual dances.