24 April 2018

South Africa: Doll Makers Are Using Their Craft to Give Representation to People Living With Albinism

Photo: Sibahle Collection
Zuri Albinism representation doll by Sibahle Collection.

Violence and stigma aimed at people with albinism is widespread. South African doll makers are creating dolls that resemble girls living with albinism to give them representation and help dispel stereotypes.

Albinism is a hereditary condition that causes a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It often results in impaired vision and affects people of all ethnicities. About one in 18 000 to 20 000 people in the world are living with albinism.

Due to general ignorance and myths associated with the condition, there is still a stigma surrounding people with albinism, resulting in discrimination, dehumanisation and isolation. Some communities believe that people living with albinism are "ghosts" or have magical powers; that they are the result of incest or a curse. People living with albinism are therefore often victims of hate crimes such as beheading as their body parts are used in witchcraft rituals. This stems from the superstition that they can bring riches, success, power or sexual conquest. Children are especially vulnerable to these crimes.

These stereotypes and superstitions are especially prevalent in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, where there is a larger population of people living with albinism.

To dispel myths and celebrate albinism, positive representation may be one of the ways to tackle and break these negative stereotypes. This is what some doll makers in South Africa are striving to do.

Mala Bryan

Bryan is an international model from the West Indies who is currently based in Miami Beach and Cape Town. The 33-year-old has been making headlines with her line of dolls: a collection of Afro-Caribbean-inspired dolls that come in a variety of brown skin tones and hair textures.

Bryan, who says she cried when she read about how young girls with albinism were being butchered, decided to make the "Alexa" doll.

"Kids with albinism finally have a doll they can relate to. In parts of Africa, people living with albinism were being butchered for their body parts because some ignorant person believes that if you have one of their bones or a finger you're going to get rich," Bryan told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Bryan believes the Alexa doll, which retails at about R400 online, can help tell the world what is being done to people living with albinism in Africa.

"All children need dolls they can relate to," Bryan said to Huffington Post. "But Alexa is very important to me because I believe she can help create awareness for people with albinism. There is so much that is going on in the world when it comes to people with albinism and it is time for those who don't know about it to learn about it."

"The design process had me doing lots of research. That is how I really found out about the horror stories and the dangers that people with albinism face on the continent," she continued in her interview with the Sunday Times. "They will always be targets just because of a skin condition and the belief that they have healing powers. Men with diseases rape these women, thinking they will be healed. That is absolutely heart-wrenching."

Caroline Hlahla and Khulile Vilakazi-Ofosu

Entrepreneurs Hlahla and Vilakazi-Ofosu are the creators of the Sibahle Collection of dolls. They are also addressing discrimination and violence against those living with albinism with their "Zuri" doll.

"At Sibahle Collection, we are about speaking out for those who have been previously ignored by the beauty industry," Vilakazi-Ofosu told the Sunday Times. "We want to be the voice for the voiceless. We have followers of all races, both young and old, taking the time to engage and comment on how remarkable Zuri is. We now have a platform to use to dispel the myths. We will bust the myths one doll at a time."

The doll-making duo were surprised at the impact Zuri has had since they launched her.

"We started with a small number of dolls, just to test the market, and we are overwhelmed by the response. We sold about 100 dolls within two days," said Vilakazi-Ofosu.

Elmi Kruidenier

Kruidenier is the creator of the handmade Hanging Doll collection. She has also added "Keeya", a doll with albinism, to her range.

"Albinism is widespread in the general population of South Africa, yet [people with it] seem to be easily overlooked. I chose the name Keeya, which means 'garden flower', to remind people with albinism that they are a perfect creation," she said to the Sunday Times.

Hopefully these dolls will be one of many steps towards ending violence against people living with albinism by normalising their likeness in mainstream markets.

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