99FM – Your Inspiration Station

The Darlings of the Herero Dolls

“It has been a hard journey but we love making these dolls. It is our passion.”

A desire to preserve our cultural identity is what drove these two women to take the art taught to them by their mothers and turn it into a business. Elsie Riruako and Philladelphia Koujo are the two women behind the Herero Dolls you find at the Gustav Voigts centre in Windhoek. The two have been making these dolls since 1991, Art Cover Ladiesworking six days a week to sell their crafts without any business support for their trade.  The dolls that they make have become an intrinsic part of our artistic identity and part of the must have Namibian memorabilia for tourists passing through our country

AB 399FM’s MYD Art spoke to Elsie and Philladelphia to find out more about their unique art. According to Elsie, both ladies were taught by their Mothers. “I worked with my Mother; she showed me how to make these dolls with your hands. We started making the dolls to sell them in 1991.”

Their business had seen the many changes in the Namibian arts landscape as well as the business landscape but yet these two women have remained steadfast to their craft. “We started making these dolls when we were just girls. Making them makes us happy. Our favourites are the Namibian flag dolls.” says Philladelphia, who adds that “It has been a hard journey but we love making these dolls. It is our passion.”AB 1

Elsie explains how the journey has been hard, “Our struggle has been with the business side of our art. We have never received support for our business. Even when we asked for help to get sewing machines or material to make the dolls, from government or support institutions, we did not get it. We have had to rely only on ourselves for support.”

AB 2The two women not only support themselves but also their children and their mothers, who first taught them this trade. In terms of their support by means of sales, the women say that while tourists are often the ones who purchase their dolls, Namibians support them too and often buy their dolls. Dolls 2Philladelphia notes that “Namibians support us and sodo tourists, but we have seen the sales of our dolls going down in recent years.”

When asked why they make Herero Dolls only, Philladelphia states that “We chose these dolls as our art because this is our tradition and we want people to
know about our Namibian traditions like the traditional clothes of Herero people.” Elsie adds that “Tourists especially, ask many questions about the dolls and we tell them about our traditions with these dolls.”

You will find Elsie and Philladelphia at the Gustav Voigts Centre, Monday through to Saturday selling their Namibian themed art pieces which have their footing in our arts and crafts identity




Article by Kirsty Watermeyer