Help solve the mystery of the global dolls

Today, while eating lunch in the teachers’ room, I got an unexpected phone call from the main office. A parent of some of my former students had arrived with a donation.

“Can she bring this donation to your classroom?” the receptionist asked. “She says she has some dolls from Nepal.”

I had no idea what to expect, but agreed to meet her. I have a few dolls from my travels, and they are fun to use in the classroom, in particular when we are discussing culture.

Ukrainian Dolls

Dolls that I got as a gift in Ukraine

A few minutes later, she arrived to my classroom with a big black trash bag. She explained that a good friend had passed away, and she couldn’t bear to see her friend’s collection thrown out. The owner of the dolls had been a big traveler, especially to Nepal, and the parent bringing them to me assumed the dolls were from there. As she took them out, I saw at least one pair of dolls that looked like they came from Nepal. They are beautiful — what looks like a couple carrying a heavy load at the end of a long day of work.Nepali Dolls

As we went through the other dolls in the bag, I realized that these were not all from Nepal. I have to admit — I have guesses for where some of them are from, but others are a total mystery to me. That’s where you come in. Help me, dear readers, to solve this puzzle. Where are these dolls from?

Mystery Doll Couple #1: They don’t quite look Tibetan to me…


Mystery Doll Couple #2: Are they dancers?

Mystery Dolls #3: How old are these?

Mystery Dolls 3

Mystery Doll #4: Does she live in the Andes Mountains of South America?

Mystery Doll 4

Mystery Doll #5: Is she friends with doll #4? Where will her baby grow up to live?

Mystery Dolls #6: What else besides dolls might be made of these materials?

Mystery Dolls 6

Ok, let’s see if the internet can work its magic. Please share this post with your global friends, and comment on the blog entry if you have any information to share. Let’s see if we can work together to figure out where these dolls come from.

Tibetan DollThank you for your help!

I’ll close out by sharing a photo of the very first global doll that I received while traveling. It was a goodbye gift from my first students, back when I was a private tutor for an American family traveling the world. This is a Tibetan doll bought in Northern India, in a town called McLeod Ganj, where the Dalai Lama lives. You can’t see in the photo, but under his hat, he’s got a long braid down his back.

TIPAWhen I look at this doll, I remember a time in my life that was full of growth and new opportunity. I remember drinking chai tea while listening to the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I remember watching dancers at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), and roaming that Himalayan town looking for new types of birds. When I look at this doll, my heart is full of all sorts of memories.

I can only imagine what kinds of stories each of these other dolls holds. Please help me and my students start putting the pieces together.


9 replies »

  1. I think #5 is from Guatemala. Her skirt is made of a material common to those worn by women in Guatemalan villages (a more traditional dress – women in Guatemala City wear clothing styles just like we wear). Also, it is very common for Guatemalan women to “wear” their children in large cloths that are wrapped around their bodies with their children tucked in to the wrap. These dolls seem to be hand made and look like many of the crafts I saw while in Guatemala. Women in Guatemala often create crafts (the woven traditional textiles are amazing – a real work of art!) to be sold to those visiting their country as a way to support their families. That’s what I think!

    • Thanks Cassi. I think that’s a good guess! I definitely think #4 and#5 are from parts of Central or South America. Do you think #4 looks similar to #5 at all, or do you think it’s from a different country? I can’t tell.

  2. #4 looks like Bolivia to me. When I travelled there, it was very common to see the women in their traditional skirts with a sweater, colorful shawl over their shoulders, and a hat. The kids are wrapped in beautiful blankets. Women in Bolivia also wear their children on their backs in a sling made from colorful cloth.

  3. I have a doll similar to #6 from the Peruvian Amazon. The head is made of a gourd and the body is made of woven plant fibers. Mine has a visor made out of a fish scale. The face is decorated differently, though. This is a fun mystery to solve!

  4. Doll #2 looks like some dolls I have from the Hmong people of Cambodia.
    Doll #3 looks like a doll I got in Jordan.
    (I couldn’t figure out how to upload a photo of each of these in the comments here….)

    • Wow! Thank you everyone! I’ve gotten a bunch of interesting comments, though nothing that confirms any of them. Some comments that were emailed or otherwise posted away from the blog. One traveler wrote, “Number 1 is from Bhutan I believe judging by the clothing. Number 2 must be from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, or the like. The colors indicate East/South east Asian but Russian influenced. Number 3 could be rather Indonesia/Philippines or Guatemalan/ Central American
      Number 4 and 5 are Peruvian/Bolivian definitely. Number 6 is most likely from Mexico or central america judging the cornhusk bodies.” Another friend who has spent time in Guatemala wrote that none of them look Guatemalan. Finally, another teacher friend wrote that #2 feels Mongolian and that “The hat on #5 reminds me of the hat style common for women in Bolivia, but most of those I’ve seen have been black or dark grey tones…so maybe somewhere nearby if not Bolivia. It and #4 each remind me of a doll I have from Peru, so something Andean would be a good bet.” Sooo, I’m doing research, but I haven’t confirmed any of these with photos from those places!

  5. I’m so sorry for the late reply; I’ve been very busy this week!
    #3 looks like it’s from South America, although I’m not sure which country. Here is a link to some South American dolls that look like the ones in your picture:

    #4 does look like it can be from Peru, as the doll shares a similar type of clothing to some of the pictures of Peruvian dolls that I found. #5 may be from Peru as well, as it looks very similar to #4. Although I must say, they are dressed for very cold climates. Perhaps that can help?
    #6 I think may be corn husk dolls, as I saw some examples of these dolls created by people today that look very similar to your picture:

    Cornhusk dolls originated from the Native Americans in the Northeastern region of America, including groups like the Wampanoags.
    #3, #4, and #5 all include dolls holding children, so perhaps looking into cultures where keeping the children close to you at all times is important. Also in #5 the woman looks like she’s traveling somewhere, so maybe look into nomadic tribes.
    In #6, the country the dolls are from might have valued cooking or jewelry, religion, etc., due to the beads and the pot being held by the dolls. And since the purple doll in #6 looks different from the others, it can mean that that doll was a community’s doctor or healer, as I know that this is true in some cultures.
    As for #1 and #2, I wasn’t able to find much on them.

    Hope this helped!

    • Wow! Good research, Anna. It’s tricky to figure out, right? I think Peru is likely too. Interesting what you learned about the cornhusk dolls. I wonder if the same thing might have been happening in other places that had similar natural materials. What a fun mystery!

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