By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Burkina Faso; Mossi peoples

Biiga (doll)


H. 17.78 cm (7")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.604


Like children everywhere, African children play with toys that help them visualize their roles as adults and teach them the skills of parenting, hunting, and farming.  At the end of a day of trading and shopping a parent may stop at the blacksmith's stall in the market to buy a small carved doll for his daughter to play with.  She may dress the doll in new clothes she has, made, may feed it and tuck it to bed under a tiny blanket in the corner of her room at night.  The carved figure is called biiga, or "child" but it represents a mature women, with developed breasts, an elaborate hairstyle, and the scarification patterns that mark passages in life.  The doll represents the child as she hopes one day to be.  In the same way American girls play with dolls such as "Barbie" that represent an ideal or a stereotype to which the child hopes to conform.