Saharan and North African toy and play cultures: The animal world in play, games and toys

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

This book offers an analysis of the animal world in relation to Saharan and North African children's toys and play activities. First, the toy dromedaries are described, then the toys referring to horses, mules and donkeys, cattle and livestock, other domestic animals, and non-domestic animals. In 'Conclusion and Perspectives', a synthesis is proposed, together with a discussion of some environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects, and a socio-semiotic analysis. Then follows the chapter 'Perspectives' in which I have tried to offer some suggestions for the practical use of this play and toy culture. In an appendix a detailed and systematic description, in French, of the Saharan and North African toy animals of the collection of the Musée de l'Homme can be consulted. For their play activities referring to the animal world the Saharan and North African children use certain animals as living toys as well as playing with toy animals. Yet, the child's body can be enough to imitate an animal such as a dromedary or a horse. The described toy animals represent dromedaries, horses, mules, donkeys, cows, zebus, sheep, rams, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, hedgehogs, chickens, gazelles, antelopes, ostriches, birds, rats, snakes, monkeys and scorpions. The omnipresence of the dromedary is not amazing at all, the importance of dromedaries in North Africa and the Sahara explains its popularity in the play activities of the children from these regions. From the gathered information as well as my personal observations in Morocco and Tunisia, I think one can conclude that the games and toys related to the animal world are more limited in the cities than in the countryside. This can be explained by the greater familiarity of rural children with animals. The boys are the ones most often playing games referring to animals or to the relationship between humans and animals. According to all the information at my disposal, these games are less current among girls. The toy animals described here only make sense in the context of the children's games which are most of the time collective and open-air play activities involving children of the same family or neighborhood. For these games the children use a good number of toys or other objects. Moreover, the way of communicating with domestic animals and the whole language referring to the animal world is practiced in these play activities. If some games directly refer to the life of the animals and their behavior, many other games find inspiration in the way adults use these animals. The children play at organizing a nomadic encampment, at being a shepherd, a dromedarist, a horseman, a mule driver, a caravaneer, a hunter, a cattle-breeder, a farmer, and almost all male occupations. Toys representing animals can be very simple, necessitating no work at all. A stone becomes a goat, a sheep or a dromedary. A long reed or stick is transformed into a horse. The majority of the toys representing animals made by Saharan and North African children, from the simplest ones to the most elaborated ones, are hand-made. With few exceptions these toys remain figurative and realistic representations regarding the overall appearance and sometimes also the details. The Saharan and North African children themselves have made almost all these animals in miniature. Therefore they use a lot of material of mineral, vegetal, animal and waste origin. Only rarely adults make such toys, like the servants and artisans of the Moors or the artisans from Rabat and Marrakech. With only few exceptions of former as well as recent times, the toy animals are made locally. Yet, the importation in these regions of European toys exists already for a long time. The oldest toy animal described in this book is a ram of painted clay made before 1889. The other toy animals of the collection of the Musée de l'Homme have been made between the 1930s and the 1960s. The toy animals I saw myself were made between 1975 and 1977 for those of the Ghrib children or between 1992 and 2002 for those of the Moroccan children.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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