Hi everyone! Tomboyhns here! A couple years ago I discovered a June holiday celebrated at the local waterfront park: Juneteenth! Juneteenth is an African-American holiday that celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States. Since a large portion of the population in my city is African-American and I love cultural history, I want to educate myself on African/African-American Culture. I am learning how to do cornrows in Addy’s, my American Girl Doll’s, hair! I dressed her up in the African Dance Outfit of Today, which is a unique outfit inspired by African culture (American Girl, 2005 to 2008). While I was doing her hair, I began thinking: what’s the cultural influence behind her attire? There are many tribes in Africa, and from them come many diverse cultures. Is it possible to discover Addy’s heritage based on her dance outfit? Let’s dive in and find out!
The first thing you notice on Addy’s outfit is the beautiful complex designs on her skirt and headband. The cloth resembles “Kente Cloth,” or “Nwentom,” created by the Ashanti People in Ghana, Africa. The origin of kente cloth dates back over 375 years to a village called “Bonwire.”
One legend states that two brothers who lived in the “Bonwire” village, named Kurugu and Ameyaw, went hunting one afternoon and came across a spider spinning a web. Stunned by the web’s beauty, the brothers decided to create something just like the spider’s weave. Thus, the first kente cloth, composed of black and white fibers from the raffia tree, was born.
The colors and patterns on the kente cloth also have symbolism and meaning. One of the patterns on Addy’s skirt has a very narrow, zig-zag-esk design. This pattern closely resembles the “Nkyimkyim” design, which symbolizes “Life is not a straight path.” It reminds me of Addy and her family living in Philadelphia, working hard to live a free life. Cool connection!
The other pattern was a bit tricky. I couldn’t find an exact match, but this design could possibly relate to “Obaakofo mmu man,” which means, “One person does not rule a nation.” This pattern represents participational democracy, which is what the Ashanti government is based on, and warning about autocracy, a government in which one person possesses unlimited power.
Addy’s dance outfit has multiple colors: Gold, black, maroon, and green.
Gold means royalty, wealth, and spiritual purity (The color on Addy’s outfit has more of an orange color. However there’s no mention about orange in any color glossary, so gold seemed to be the next best interpretation).
Black means maturation and spirit of the ancestors.
Maroon means Mother Earth and healing (the color on Addy’s skirt could possibly be red, which means blood, strong political and spiritual feelings, but for Addy’s character, maroon is the color that seems to make more sense).
Finally, Green means harvest, growth, and spiritual renewal.
All the colors and patterns could represent Addy’s life as she goes through maturation, and revitalization, as well as a reminder of the land from which she came.
The next series of accessories you will notice of Addy’s dance outfit is the necklace and bracelet made with cowrie shells.
Cowrie shells have different meanings in Africa. One depiction is that the cowrie shell symbolizes fertility and gives the appearance of a woman’s belly button.
There is also a legend that states: if one is attracted to cowrie shells, their family could belong to an ocean spirit of wealth and earth. As a symbol of the sea, it may be why the cowrie shell Addy inherited from her great-grandmother would carry so much significance.
The final notable accessory in Addy’s African dance outfit is the gold bracelet. Like many cultures, gold represented wealth and prosperity in Africa. While the bracelet has little connection to Addy herself, it could possibly hint at Addy’s dream of spending her life in freedom in fancy dresses and possessing vast intelligence.
So, is Addy descended from the Ashanti people? I am not sure. I do know that this outfit, created by the American Girl company is designed to be an example of an African Dance Outfit of Today. Regardless, it’s fun to explore the history behind and influences upon the Addy doll. We are given a chance to learn about the world around us and celebrate beautiful cultures.
Thanks for reading! Leave a like if you enjoyed my article! Consider sharing it! Let’s get people excited about the world’s gorgeous and unique cultures! Also, if you want me to analyze more American Girl outfits, leave a comment to let me know! Have a great day everyone!
On a side note, you might be wondering about the beads and cord wrap in Addy’s hair. That was an extra thing I decided to do. It has nothing to do with Addy’s outfit.
However, beads are a symbol of pride in Africa, so I felt like it was appropriate to put some in Addy’s hair. I chose orange and yellow because they symbolized sun, fertility, growth, warmth, generosity, and friendship. I thought those were perfect for Addy’s character.
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“Symbolism: The Cowrie Shell.” Everything Soulful. Everything Soulful. 22 Mar. 2016 <https://everythingsoulful.com/symbolism-the-cowrie-shell/>
“Kente Cloth Computing.” Culturally Situated Design Tools. <https://csdt.rpi.edu/culture/legacy/african/kente/index.html>
Porter, Connie and Dahl Taylor. Addy: An American Girl (The American Girl Dolls Collection). Reed Business Information, Inc. 1993
Kodzo, Lloyd. “Kente Cloth Patterns and Meanings.” 19 Oct. 2009. <https://www.kentecloth.net/kente-cloth-patterns/>
“African Dance Outfit of Today.” American Girl Wiki. Fandom. Wikipedia. <http://americangirl.wikia.com/wiki/African_Dance_Outfit_of_Today>
The Spider Weaver book cover-
Musgrove, Margret and Cairins, Julia. The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth. Blue Sky Press. 1 Feb. 2001
Addy with Cowrie Shell Necklace-
Harris, Aisha. “The Making of an American Girl.” Slate. The Slate Group. 21 Sept. 2016
“The Incredible History of the Ashanti Fertility Doll.” Wayne. African Imports. WordPress. <http://blog.africaimports.com/wordpress/2017/01/the-incredible-history-of-the-ashanti-fertility-doll/>