Wonderful world of dolls
[b]Gomel’s Rumyantsev-Paskevich Park and Palace Ensemble hosts Doll-Protectors exhibition[/b]The rare collection has been donated by the museum in the village of Strenki in Rogachev district, which has opened this autumn with support from the UNDP. The derelict building has been revamped to house the exhibits but the dolls appeared in Strenki long before. Several years ago, a local crafts centre began to collect ancient stories on how, why and for whom dolls were made. In fact, some were created to protect homes, health, beauty, wealth and luck.
The rare collection has been donated by the museum in the village of Strenki in Rogachev district, which has opened this autumn with support from the UNDP. The derelict building has been revamped to house the exhibits but the dolls appeared in Strenki long before. Several years ago, a local crafts centre began to collect ancient stories on how, why and for whom dolls were made. In fact, some were created to protect homes, health, beauty, wealth and luck.
“Protecting dolls had magical significance for our ancestors, serving as intermediaries between people and the other world,” explains Anastasia Povarich, a junior research officer at Gomel’s Rumyantsev-Paskevich Park and Palace Ensemble. “Childhood began with dolls, which accompanied people throughout their life. It was thought that dolls resonated with spirituality and the creativity of generations past.”
Most were made by women, who were the guardians of the household, protecting it from various destructive evils. They created dolls from early childhood by twisting, bending and tying, without needles or scissors. “Dolls were primarily made from unwanted scraps of fabric or natural materials,” continues Anastasia, leading me past museum displays. In fact, fabric scraps were thought to be imbued with the spiritual strength of the family, explains Anastasia, “It was believed that remnants of fabric contained an element of human life force, with energy passed from the doll to those who owned it.”
Each doll was created without a definite face, to avoid evil intent settling within it, and could be made from natural materials such as twigs, straw, grass or flowers. Of course, our ancestors used to commonly lived in the forest, so tree twigs were often used for the doll’s body. Birch (long considered to be a symbol of male power) protected family happiness, strengthening the Yang (male origin) of the family, ensuring prosperity and well-being. Meanwhile, aspen twigs were incorporated, to ward off evil spirits from the home.
Children’s constructions and toys were treated with respect, since they were thought to possess magic powers. Children’s games were thought to encourage positive energy, bringing a good harvest, wealth and happy marriages. If children spent enough time playing with dolls, there would be enough money in the house while, if children were careless with dolls, troubles might occur.
‘Pelenashki’ (swaddling) or ‘Kuvatki’ (relating to the ancient custom whereby a husband was put to bed while his wife gave birth) dolls are showcased at the museum. Two weeks before each birth, swaddling dolls were laid in the cradle to ‘warm’ it and were later used as toys and as talismans guarding the baby when left at home alone.
As a girl grew older, she received a ‘Zhelannitsa’ doll, which would make dreams come true if a bead or ribbon was attached. The doll — the performer of the sacred wish — was hidden in a secret place. Young girls of marriageable age competed against each other with their ‘Vesnushki’ (freckle) dolls, which had extremely long braids of various colours and tones. It was believed that such dolls protected the maidenhood of a girl, her beauty and youth. When a young girl was due to marry, a ‘Desyatiruchka’ doll (assistant with ten hands) was placed in her trunk with her dowry, to assist in household routines. Moreover, a ‘Nerazluchniki’ doll was also given: two dolls united with a common hand, ensuring that husband and wife remained always together.
People couldn’t do without dolls in their household. A ‘Vezunchik’ doll was hung above the door to attract luck, while a ‘Domovichek’ doll depicted a house spirit from Slavic folklore, residing in its own corner. A doll with small baby dolls tied to it was secretly hidden, denoting prosperity, and it was completely forbidden for strangers to see it. Homes were also obliged to have a ‘Blagodat’ (godsend) doll (with raised hands) and a ‘Kolokolchik’ doll, in a triple bell-shaped skirt, symbolising harmony of spirit, soul and body, bringing joy and good news.
All these dolls were honoured in everyday life and during holidays, with new, stuffed, rag gifts made on the eve of great celebrations, to be presented on various occasions. It was customary for children to make dolls to give as gifts to adults, in thanks for receiving presents; in this way, children were taught to be thankful. It was also believed that, when making such dolls, children allocated part of their soul to them, while learning tenderness and kindness.
By Violetta Dralyuk