As always Marcia organized an amazing Portuguese class today. The class was held at a really cute artesanal art shop on Rua 5 (the prettiest street in town) called Guapo. It is owned by a great couple that we just refer to “os meninos do Guapo” (boys from Guapo). Their real names are Zé and Horácio. Their shop is full of homemade arts and crafts made by themselves and local artists reflecting and representing Brazilian history and culture. Among the array of beautiful things in their shop is a collection of Abayomi dolls or bonecas. Today we, Marcia, Linda, Jenny and I, met at Guapo where Zé and Horácio taught us about these dolls including how to make our own Abayomi bonecas.
The Abayomi boneca from Yorùbá
The name Abayomi is an African word in two parts; Abay – meaning meeting and Omi – meaning precious. An abayomi is traditionally a black doll made from strips of cloth and string and brings joy and happiness to whoever receives it.
During the Atlantic slave trade era the women tore pieces of their clothing to make Abayomis for their children to calm them and cheer them up.
The Yorùbá culture originates from western Africa south of the Sahara mainly Nigeria, Benin and Togo.
The Yorùbá is an ethnic group and apparently consists of about 105 million people in total today. The Yorùbá diaspora consists of two groupings; one of them includes relatively recent migrants, the majority of which moved to the UK and the US after major economic and political changes in the 1960s to 1980s. The other dates to the Atlantic Slave trade and has communities in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil and other countries. Yorùbá is also the language spoken in the area referred to as Yorùbáland and also in other parts of the world.
DIY Abayomi boneca
The basic rules are simple. The body of the doll has to be black and the doll has to be made without the use of a needle, glue or any tools except a pair of scissors to cut the string. Other than that, the sky is the limit or, depending on how creative you are, your imagination.
You need black T-shirt yarn for the body, some string and pieces of fabric.
Step 1 The cut
Cut 3 equal pieces of T-shirt yarn about 15-20cm.
Step 2 The body
Put two pieces of the yarn together and tie a knot 2cm from the top to make the head. Tie little knots at the end of each piece for feet. Now take the third piece and tie it under the headknot and tie hands at the ends. Pronto! Body is done.
Step 3 The dress
Cut or tear a piece of fabric about 25×15 cm. Cut a small hole in the middle to pull the dolls head through. Fold fabric onto the shoulders accordion style and fold down over back and front of doll. Tie at the waist with string. Arrange skirts to your liking. You can also use two pieces to make a skirt and blouse in which case you pleat the skirt around the body and tie it with string. The blouse is done the same way as the dress but cut shorter.
Step 4 The turban
Take a strip of fabric about 20x3cm. Twist around the head tying on side or front.
And there it is!
My imagination kicked in on my second doll and I added a baby to my Abayomis back.
All the dolls were beautiful with their different dresses and turbans, each sporting their own look.
The story of Taiwo and Kehinde
On a coffee plantation in eastern Brazil, in 1871, a slave woman gave birth to twin girls. She named them Taiwo and Kahinde. These babies were special, but not because they were twins. In fact, the Yorùbá people have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. The Yorùbá believe it is due to the high amount of ocra leaves and a special yam that is common in their traditional cuisine.
The Yorùbá traditionally named their first born twin Taiwo meaning “the first twin to taste the world” or “the one who comes before Kehinde”. Although Taiwo is born first she/he is considered the younger twin merely sent out by the older Kehinde to check if the time is right to be born.
No, this is not why this set of twins was special.
In the late 1800s slavery had been highly controversial for a while across the world and abolished in many countries. Brazil was the last country to completely abolish slavery but that didn’t happen until 1888. In 1871, Brazil passed a law called “Lei do ventre livre” which was the law of the free womb. The law meant that all children born to slaves would be free Brazilians.
These girls, Taiwo and Kehinde, were special because they were born as free Brazilians, unlike their parents, and would grow up and contribute to the diversity that is so representative of the Brazilian people and culture today.