African princess dolls are bang on trend, giving children toys that not only represent them but also tell a story of pride, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

Seen one doll, seen them all. Until recently, dolls weren’t seen as a true representation of what real women look like.

But there’s a trend emerging with manufacturers creating toys that are lifelike and culturally aware. Until recently, there had been few dolls African girls could identify with.

Nutritionist Bertha Munthali, 39, had an epiphany one night when tucking her three children into bed – she realised how her upbringing differed from that of her kids.

Their characters and books were all based on US TV shows, while her childhood memories, growing up in Malawi, included fairy tales based on folklore rooted in culture.

She wanted the same for her brood and so Munthali worked on creating a range of African dolls. Towering at 45cm, the six in the range are incredibly lifelike. Each has its backstory.

Munthali said that just because they were black, didn’t mean they were meant for only black children. “My doll is not meant for African children based on skin colour or race, but based on being African, irrespective of your race or colour of your skin.”

The driving force behind the idea is her love and passion for the African identity: “The world has become a bully of cultures and if we are not careful, African culture will be invisible to African children. A loss of identify is a loss of a future.”

It takes a vivid imagination to create six dolls, each with its own story. Munthali’s inspiration came in the form of a bedtime story she wrote for her children which was an adaptation of a famous folktale in Malawi, called Kamdothi.

“When I adapted the story, I wanted to give them something close to the familiar princesses they know and I called her Chichi, the clay princess.” And so her first doll character came into being.

She asked an artist to put a face to the princess. He ended up illustrating the whole storybook. “Using the illustrated images, I outsourced services to mould the doll and I wanted other kids to have an African princess they could relate to and be proud of.”

The African Girl dolls can be purchased via Munthali’s website, Yellow Kingdom Network, for R650 with outfits and accessories at additional cost. She found a loyal customer base at Saturday markets and via social media, and aims to expand beyond South Africa. Munthali’s focus is to build a brand “that can represent Africa because of who we are as African people”.

She stressed against the importance of the doll helping to restore an African identity. “The African girl doll range cannot be just another doll of colour on the shelf, but something the African girl can relate to and a restoration of African identity in a world influenced by popular culture.

“Orienting children towards the images that reflect their culture and roots is as good as investing in their education for the health of a nation.”

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