Carved Wooden Leopard
This carved wooden leopard is a work of art from the Kingdom of Benin, in present day Nigeria. Within the beliefs of the Kingdom of Benin, leopards were important animals.
This doll was given to Diana Powell-Cotton while she was travelling in the Bajuni Islands, off the south coast of Somalia. We don’t know who made it – Diana didn’t record that – but she did record that it was meant to be a likeness of her! The face and hair are quite different to the other dolls in the collection, many of whom have their heads covered.
Children would make and play with dolls like this. Often, they mimicked the world around them so dolls of mothers might carry babies on their backs and the clothes they wore were made of the scraps of material left over from making clothes for the family.
In 1935 Diana Powell-Cotton travelled from the Somali capital Mogadishu to the southern tip of the country, mostly along the coastline. The collection she made is significant for its inclusion of lots of material relating to the lives of women and children, and to ethnic minorities such as the Bajuni (a minority community within Somalia) who are often underrepresented in historic museum collections.