[français] - [english]






Tome 1: 93 p.
Tome 2: 13 p. + 107 figures

This publication can be consult on :

NCFL - Nordic Center for Research on Toys and Educational Media University of Halmstad, Box 823, 301 18 Halmstad, Sweden

© Jean-Pierre Rossie
ISBN 91-89400-30-5

© Jean-Pierre Rossie

© Jean-Pierre Rossie


When speaking of toys, and the games in which they are used, in North Africa and the Sahara an enormous territory as well as a complex socio-cultural area this lies in the diversity of physical, economic, social and cultural environments are evoked. So one should beware of hurried generalizations. One reason for creating a big difference between a small Berber-speaking semi-nomadic Saharan settlement and an Arabic-speaking large Moroccan town with an old urban tradition. Another reason to be suspicious of general statements is found in the almost total lack of as well previous as contemporary research on play, games and toys in this region.

The information gathered here speaks of children between three and thirteen years, for boys possibly a somewhat older age, living in non-industrial rural communities or in popular quarters of the cities. So one will look in vain for information on infants and young toddlers.

Four sources of information lay at the basis of my research:

  • the collection of Saharan and North African toys of the Département d’Afrique Blanche et du Proche Orient of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris;

  • the ethnographic, linguistic and other bibliography of the geographic area concerned;

  • my research on the games and toys of the Ghrib children from the Tunisian Sahara, between 1975 and 1977;

  • my since 1992 ongoing research in Morocco.

Chapter 2, ‘Toy design: reflexions of an anthropologist’, mentions some reflexions that relate to the local Saharan and North African attitude towards traditional and imported dolls, such as Barbie and Brownie the gnome. In this chapter I also give examples of toy design with natural and waste materials and I try to relate the topic of toy design and safety to the toys made by the children themselves. Chapter 3, ‘Toys, sociocultural reproduction and continuity’, deals with the relationships between toys, the sociocultural reproduction and the continuity of toy design, play, attitudes, behaviors and values in successive generations. Chapter 4, ‘Toys and creativity’ looks at the evolvement of individual and collective creativity in toy making and play activities. Chapter 5, ‘Dolls, symbols and communication’, analyses some aspects relating to the topics of symbols and communication through toys. Chapter 6, ‘Girls’ dolls: a social semiotic approach’, describes a first attempt to use this approach on the dolls of North African and Saharan girls. Chapter 7, ‘Toys and gender’, looks at differences and similarities between boys and girls in making toys and playing with them. Chapter 8, ‘Toys and generations’, reviews the adult-child and child-child ludic relationships. Chapter 9, ‘Toys and change’, tries to define the evolution of dolls and dolls’ houses and of toys representing means of transport and technology. Finally, Chapter 10, ‘Conclusion’, links the toy making and play activities of North African and Saharan children to the commercialization of toys and the general debate on toys and play. In an Appendix, the reader will find a scheme for a detailed description of play activities, games and toys that can serve as a guide in describing these ludic activities.

In the actual Western context Barbie is an idealized model for young girls as well as boys of all classes of how a young woman should look like, what she should strive after and how she should behave. Except among the upper class, most men and women of the present day Saharan and North African communities have a totally different viewpoint on the same Barbie. The ideal female model there is a decently dressed well fed, even corpulent, young woman as symbolized in the female dolls made by the girls of these regions. The Barbie-like type is in real life associated with what is called in Morocco ‘une squelette vivante’, a ‘living skeleton’. Still today, a woman with such a figure is viewed as a very lean woman whose appearance is to be attributed to one of the following pitiful conditions: poorness, sickness, having problems, if not a combination of them. So it is not surprising that some women take pills to thicken, just as they do it in the West to grow lean.

Without trying to give an exhaustive list of the natural material taken from the local environment and used to make toys, these items can be grouped as follows:

  • material of mineral origin: sand, clay, paint, stones, pebbles...,

  • material of vegetal origin: cactus, flowers, palm or read leaves, reed, sticks and branches, bark of cork-oak, sap, glue, paint, ear of maize, nuts, dates, courgettes, patatoes...,

  • material of animal origin: bones, horns, hair, skin, intestines, dung...,

  • material of human origin: hair, parts of the body or the whole body.

© Jean-Pierre Rossie

© Jean-Pierre Rossie

Children are masters in the reutilization of waste material they find in their human environment. So it is obvious that they also use this material for elaborating toys. An incomplete list contains the following items:

  • earthenware material: pieces of pottery, pearls, buttons...,

  • glass material: pieces of glass utensils, bottles, pearls...,

  • wooden material: pieces of timber wood, spoons...,

  • fibrous material: cotton, woolen or synthetic threads and rags, pieces of carpets...,

  • metallic material: pieces of iron, aluminum, copper and tin, wires, tins, cans, nails, needles, safety pins, parts of bicycles and cars...,

  • paper material: paper, pasteboard, cardboard...,

  • plastic and rubber material: tubes, tires, pipes, flasks, cans, bottles, bottle stoppers, plastic toys or parts of it...,

  • other material: pencils, ball-points, ink, paint, glue, candle, make up products...

As different materials are often used in combination, the same toy often exemplifies the use of natural material of different origin as well as the use of different kinds of waste material. Leaves, especially palm and reed leaves, serve to create different kinds of toys, such as whistles, little windmills, animals, cars. But also vegetables, like courgettes and patatoes, can be used to create toys. Sound-making toys, such as whistles, flutes or drums, are made as well with natural as with waste material.

Playing household offers a good example of the use of different types of waste material combined with some natural material. In small houses, delimited by stones or little walls of sand, North African and Saharan girls use pieces of pottery and glass utensils; metallic caps, tins and cans; plastic ropes, flasks, cans, plates and bottle stoppers; pieces of paper, cardboard and wood; rags of all kinds and a lot more waste material; but they also use water, clay, flowers and herbs, little branches and reed.

The same object can be easily transformed into several toys within a very short time as I could observe in November 1997 when a Moroccan boy of about six years first walked around with a half of a plastic can as his toy-hat, then attached it to a rope and used it as a football before changing it into a drum to accompany his singing, all this in less than five minutes.

The above mentioned examples of toys made by the children with natural and waste material offer just a glimpse of what these children experience and learn about materials, techniques and structures. This creation of toys and the playing with them also offers the children the possibility to develop all their senses. Moreover, It is not the finished toy itself that is important but, on the one hand, the process of searching the material and of creating the toy and, on the other hand, the play activities in which they are used.

The question of safety and unsafeness in relation to the toys made by Saharan and North African children is a completely unstudied one and surely very problematic as a discussion on these topics will reveal opposing viewpoints: the ones stressing the creativity and developmental advantages of self-made toys, the others underlining the inherent danger of doing so.

Speaking of non-industrialized communities, it certainly is easier to give instances of the relationships between toys and the continuity of attitudes, behaviors and values in successive generations than to document on the relationships between the making of toys and the development of creativity.

A remarkable African example of continuity in toy design is offered by the spatial and temporal distribution of toy-animals in clay, especially of a special type of toy-animal modeled with the two front legs assembled in one leg. I have found four groups of three-legged toy-animals in clay, three located along the Niger river in Mali and one from the Mauritanian Sahara: the archeological finds at Jenné-Jeno (100 B.C. - A.D. 1400), the archeological finds in 1904 from the Rhergo area (no date), the toy-animals of the Tuareg children from Tombouctou and Goundam (1950s) and the toy-animals from Oualata (1930s-1950s).

Although probably few people will have expected to find such a two thousand year old, and probably much older, toy tradition in the meridional part of the Sahara, this continuity in toy design and in the material used to create the toy-animals is not so surprising if one bears in mind the striking similarity between some ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek or Indian toys and some modern toys such as dolls, toy-animals, knucklebones, marbles, spinning tops, spinning wheels, kites, swings, rattles.

In the more or less traditional milieus of North Africa and the Sahara, the dolls and doll play as well as the other toys and play activities reflect the social and cultural realities of the community in which the children grow up. They are directly related to the child-rearing methods and to the values upheld in the child’s family and local community.

In his doll play the child of these regions very often anticipates the life it will have as an adult, at least in those communities where the lifestyle only changed slowly from one generation to the next, a stability that you can find nowhere in the Sahara or in North Africa since three or four decades. However, what is at stake in the doll play of North African and Saharan children is a personal interpretation of the adult world not just a simple and clear imitation of it. A lot of play activities and toys help children to integrate themselves in the primary social groups in which they grow up, to adapt to the roles offered to them and to interiorate the norms and values prevailing in these groups. Nevertheless, one should not see non-industrial communities, even rural ones, as monolithic groups. In the same neighborhood and within the same socio-economic class, you can find families that are more restrictive regarding the play activities and the toy making of their children than other families. In some families playing is seen as a waste of time, especially for girls, whereas other parents leave their children more free to play.

In their interpretation of the adult world these children not only show fidelity to the traditional canons but also develop their creativity. A somewhat unusual creative action was surely undertaken in 1975 by a few Ghrib boys of the Tunisian Sahara who designed facial features on their sisters’ dolls that traditionally did not have facial features, a custom still honored by the girls at that moment although some of these girls clumsily tried to imitate their brothers. Later on, in 1991, Ghrib girls of the following generation made a creative use of a waste product of the consumptive society, a plastic flask, to give a new head to their dolls at the same time designing well elaborated facial features on it. A truly individual creativity comes to the foreground in the case of a girl of a poor quarter of Marrakech in Morocco who made out of an undressed plastic doll, made in China, a beautiful bride doll of Marrakech.

I found another fine example of the creative use of natural and waste material skillfully combined to create a remarkable toy figuring an inaccessible item of agricultural progress, namely a tractor in a really small village in the Moroccan High Atlas. This ingenious toy design has been realized in not more than ten minutes by a thirteen-year-old boy with nothing else than some fresh pieces of cactus, parts of a little branch and of reed, on the one hand, and pieces of rubber, part of a rubber pipe and plastic bottle stoppers, on the other hand.

Because of the primordial importance of the North African and Saharan children’s playgroups, I want to stress the hypothesis that the creativity in making toys and playing with them could more often be expressed, and if so should be investigated, in the children’s interactions within their playgroups rather than in the case of isolated players.

Although toys have several aspects that are universal, each sociocultural system has developed some particular toy design, for example for toys representing human beings. These toys refer to specific symbols and are used for communicating specific messages.

The face of a doll has very important significations. Among all the North African and Saharan male dolls I have seen or read about, not one has a face on which the eyes, nose, mouth or ears are represented. These male dolls completely lack facial features, even those modeled in clay. As the male dolls from all over the area, the female dolls of the children of the Saharan nomads have a symbolic face. Among the Tuareg, the Ghrib and the Moors these dolls traditionally had no facial features. The same cannot be said of the sedentary Saharan populations as among them the facial features of the dolls are sometimes indicated. Between a total lack of facial features and their realistic representation, one finds also a more fancy elaboration of these features.

As will become clear in the section on the ‘Evolution of Dolls and Dolls’ Houses’, it seems that the modernization of the North African and Saharan societies pushes the children away from a symbolic representation of the facial features towards a more realistic one. An evolution especially stimulated, as far as the children are concerned, by schooling and the mass-media.

Symbolic and realistic images of masculinity and femininity are also present in North African and Saharan dolls. Among the two most important nomadic peoples of the Sahara, the Tuareg and the Moors, the most striking difference between a male and a female doll is a standing versus a sitting posture. These female dolls also have very developed buttocks, because this is a sign of beauty and wealth. So the doll becomes a means to inculcate on the mind of the child the ideal of female beauty, just as the Barbie doll does for the American and European child.

As a summarizing statement on this point of symbolic and realistic images of masculinity and femininity in North African and Saharan dolls, one could say that they show at the same time a realistic copy of an adult and a symbolic representation of an idealized sociocultural status. Both images are elaborated in a straight figurative way, through posture, hairdo, clothing, ornamentation, and rarely physical characteristics such as the representation of the buttocks or the breasts on the female dolls.

With an exception for Morocco, I have noticed the existence of male dolls only among the children of populations living in the Sahara, especially the nomads and semi-nomads. Those male dolls are made by girls and sometimes by boys, mostly Tuareg boys. They represent dromedarists, horsemen, herdsmen, warriors, notable men or bridegrooms. Child dolls seem to be very rare in the whole area and if they do exist they closely resemble the adult male or female dolls. Nevertheless, the Chaouia mother doll carrying her baby doll on her back, made by the Berber girls of the AurËs region in north east Algeria, is there to show the relativity of every absolute statement.

Doll play is not limited to visual communication through dolls, as other forms of non-verbal communication, through gestures and dances, have their place in all this. The verbal communication is also present through dialogues and songs.

As within each community the children play with the same kind of dolls, their similitude facilitates the elaboration and communication of shared signification. This elaboration and communication of shared signification being strengthened by the fact that most of the children make themselves their dolls. Thus the dolls and the doll play can be viewed as an efficient communicative tool for the keeping up of the sociocultural system.

Through dolls and doll play a lot of symbols, signification, aesthetic, social and moral values are transmitted from one generation to the other and interiorized by the children in a ludic way. In this context, the ludic inter generational interaction between children and adults on the one hand and between older and younger children on the other hand is of the uttermost importance. However, one can ascertain that in the North African and Saharan doll play, it normally being a collective activity not an individual one, the interaction among peers is largely predominant. In their collective doll play these children from the same family or neighborhood, enact their interpretation of the adult world, of female and sometimes male activities, of festivities.

When looking more closely to the topic of how specific material has been chosen to represent specific features of dolls, I have found some interesting examples, such as reed leaves to give a traditional hairdos, hemp to create long hair locks, the beard of an ear of maize to give long hair. However, this intentional use of materials and objects is not limited to making dolls. It is also important in the creation of other toys, for example when the jaw-bone of a goat or a sheep is used to represent a dromedary or when children use all kinds of round, cylindrical and oval objects to make wheels for their toy-carts, bicycles, motors, cars, trucks and tractors.

Although it is sometimes possible to relate the choice of a particular material or object to a specific representational meaning, this will be much more difficult if not impossible in other cases. It certainly would be interesting to ask children why they prefer to use one kind of material instead of other kinds, yet, they probably quite often will find this a ‘stupid’ or ‘nonsense’ question and their answer could just be ‘it was always like that’, ‘everybody does it this way’, ‘that is the way we learned to do it’ or ‘that is what we can use’.

Next to the material used by children to make their toys, the used technology is also important. The North African and Saharan children are restricted to what is called "the technologies of the hand". Yet, the used handtools are more often than not objects found by the children themselves, not tools of adults.

One of the technological aspects these children are confronted with, is the aspect of movement, movement of the toy itself or movement of parts of the toy. Although the North African and Saharan dolls, I know of, have no movable parts, the fact that they are not articulated should not be attributed to a lack of technical know-how as other toys have movable parts, e.g. toy-windmills, toy-ploughs, toy-cars.

Gender differentiation played and still plays a very important role in the socialization of North African and Saharan children and therefore also in the sphere of toys and play. Toys made by girls seem largely to be inspired by the intimate sphere of family life, especially making dolls, small houses, little tents, toy-utensils. Boys, on the contrary, although they also may make here or there these toys seem to prefer to make toys inspired by the techniques or necessary for enacting economic activities. It is especially in their imitative games, and in the making of the toys used in them, that the girls or the boys of these regions represent the everyday life of either their female or male relatives.

As girls are part of the female world they remain more bounded to tradition than boys and this sociocultural reality is reflected in the making of toys. It probably explains why most toy making and most play activities related to technological and sociocultural change are found among boys. The making of toys related to the animal world, an animal world that still plays a very important role in rural North Africa and in the Sahara, is predominantly the work of boys. With these toy-animals - representing dromedaries, horses, mules, goats, sheep, cattle, dogs and also some wild animals - the boys play at watering and feeding their herd, at mounting a caravan, engaging in a race, organizing a hunting, cattle-stealing or cattle-trading expedition, all activities related to economic activities and the male dominated outside world.

Following the same line of gender division between the inner female world and the outside male world common in the region, the self-made toys and related play activities that refer to domestic life - small houses, toy-utensils, toy-handmills, toy-looms - are more peculiar to the girls, whereas, the self-made toys and related play activities that refer to the techniques, toy-vehicles, toy-weapons, toy-communication items, are more peculiar to the boys.

From a young age, lets say at the age of about five years, children’s play groups become separated between girls’ groups and boys’ groups, whereby girls’ play groups, much more than boys’ play groups, possibly have to care for one or more little girls and boys. As play groups of girls and play groups of boys are strongly separated, the role of the peer group with its same-sex playmates is overwhelmingly important in making and playing with sex-appropriate toys.

The freedom of movement of the somewhat older girls and boys is strikingly different. Normally, one finds the girls’ play groups nearby their homes. Boys’ play groups can be found further away, the distance broadening as the boys become older as in the case of these Moroccan boys playing in the sea at two hours walking from their village. Another striking difference between boys and girls, already at the age of six years but becoming more important at a more advanced age, is the time they are left free to play as girls must help more often their mother and female relatives than boys their father and male relatives.

As the data on gender differences in the toy making and playing of North African and Saharan children are scarce, the above made statements should only be seen as hypothetical and not as established facts. So, much more specific research will be needed to verify them. Moreover, the distinction between girls and boys in the sphere of making toys and playing with them should not be viewed as a rigid one as I have found already some cases in which a girl or a boy made or played with a typical toy of the other sex.

Playing with others from ones own generation and from older and younger generations reveals to be of the uttermost importance in the growing up and socialization of children, and this certainly remains true for North African and Saharan children. But the information gained from the bibliography of these regions does not give much concrete data on generation differences in ludic activities nor on playful relations between adults and children. So, I have to turn to my research on the Ghrib children of the Tunisian Sahara to be able to give some detailed data on the relationship between adults and children through play and toy making.

Among the Ghrib, as elsewhere in North Africa and the Sahara and probably all over the world, it is the mother, grandmother or older sister who most of the time soothes and amuses the little girls and boys of the family. Nevertheless, I have more than once observed that a father or an uncle, an adult brother or cousin played just for fun with a toddler, as well a girl as a boy. However, if the child gives trouble or starts crying, it is easily handed over to its mother or older sister. When a female family member plays with a little child it can also be just for fun but more often it serves the purpose of pacifying, distracting, occupying or entertaining the baby or toddler. The close relationship between female family members and little children too easily leads to the conclusion that in more or less traditional communities fathers, grandfathers, older brothers and uncles do not interact with young children. However, one should be careful with such hasty conclusions, often based on superficial or hurried observations.

The generally accepted viewpoint, accepted as well by local people as by foreign observers, that the adults of these regions are quite indifferent to, or, probably more correct, unpreoccupied by children’s play remains as far as I know without an adequate explanation. However, some elements for such an explanation can be brought forward. As toy making and play activities are viewed as an integral part of childhood, as this childhood is not defined as a separate sociocultural entity and as there is a clear distinction between the status of being a child and the status of being an adult, these child(ish) ludic activities should not only be dropped when entering adulthood but adults should not participate in children’s play neither. Moreover, as children in these communities most of the time are very well socialized and do respect the local norms and values even in their play, there seems to be little necessity for adult interference. Still, adult interference and control of children’s play is certainly more important when it concerns girls who have to remain in the vicinity of the house, whereas boys enjoy a lot more freedom.

In relation to the adult-child relationship through a gift of a toy, so common in other societies more directed towards consumption, it seems that such a gift was, and often still is, exceptional in the Saharan and North African societies as the children in most cases make their toys themselves.

These toys are created by children to communicate with children and, notwithstanding some exceptions, they are not created in isolation but most often within a play group. If in the sphere of play activities, games and toys the role of adults is less visible in the North African and Saharan context, the role of the children’s play group, of the older siblings and play-mates and of the peers is overwhelmingly important.

To see a North African or Saharan child playing alone is something that happens only now and then. Children’s play activities in these regions are especially collective and outdoor activities. Playgroups are hereby the basic social organizations. They consist of only girls or only boys, seldom of boys and girls together. When girls and boys form a playgroup together they are toddlers or somewhat older children, possibly under the direction of an older girl, maybe now and then an older boy. The factors for choosing play-mates to form a playgroup are primordially based on ties of kinship or neighborhood. This certainly strengthens the cohesion of the playgroups and the bonds between the children, even more than in the case of play groups composed of schoolmates, a common factor for organizing play groups in post-industrial societies.

In the chapter 'Toys and Change' an analysis of the relationship between toys and the evolution of North African and Saharan societies is proposed. My first example of the evolution of female dolls comes from the Ghrib of the Tunisian Sahara. This Ghrib community, which changed from a nomadic way of life before 1960 to a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the seventies, has nowadays completely settled down.

The evolution of the girls’ female dolls took place in a period of fifteen years, between 1975 and 1990. The traditional dolls represent a bride and have a stereotype frame of two crossed sticks. They are individualized by their clothes made of all kinds of rags. The jewels they wear are a replication of those a girl receives from her future husband but they are made out of iron wire, pieces of tin cans and aluminum fragments. Finally, the dolls wear two plaits of goat-hair which hang before the ears, just as married women do, and one or more pieces of clothes serve as kerchief.

In the oasis of El Faouar where most of the Ghrib have settled, some brothers going to the primary school designed in 1975 facial features on the dolls their illiterate sisters had made and wanted to give me. Traditionally, these dolls do not have such features and the Ghrib girls respected this norm. Nevertheless, the girls did not oppose their brothers’ spontaneous action and some girls even tried to do the same.

Some fifteen years later, in 1991, the facial features now designed by the school going girls themselves are well elaborated. At that moment, another innovation in the making of female dolls did also come up. Therefore the Ghrib girls have made use of one of the waste products of the consumptive society, a consumptive society that has succeeded in integrating the Ghrib community to an increasing extent. This waste product is an empty plastic flask that serves as the doll’s head by putting it over a vertical stick. An elaborated face has been designed on the flask.

Not only in Marrakech, but also in other Moroccan towns the locally made doll has been replaced by imported plastic dolls. In Moroccan villages one finds today as well the self-made doll as the imported plastic doll, a plastic doll sometimes adapted to local ways by giving it a self-made dress. But in some other, even really small, Moroccan villages the self-made doll has disappeared.

Another evolution is directly related to the development of tourism. Today in the east of Morocco, where tourists come to admire the sand dunes of Merzouga, some young girls make their traditional dolls with a frame of reed not so much any longer to play with them, although they still use them for their doll play, but for selling them to these tourists. This way these dolls change from children’s toys to touristic objects. Another example of the influence of tourism on children’s toys is already a lot older and related to the beautiful dolls’ houses of the girls of the small town of Oualata in the Mauritanian Sahara.

The evolution of North African and Saharan dolls refers to the ludic activities of girls as boys only rarely make dolls. But the evolution of toys representing means of transport and technology on the contrary refers to the sphere of ludic activities of the boys.

In the 1970s when the Ghrib lived a more or less seminomadic life, their boys liked to play with and to make a sometimes mounted toy-dromedary. But for a toddler just a piece of wood would do to represent the symbiosis that existed over centuries between the Ghrib and their dromedaries of which they were renowned breeders.

In the second half of the 1970s it was obvious that different toys and games of the Ghrib boys were influenced by the evolution of their community from nomadism to sedentariness, such as playing at being a village merchant or at irrigating a miniature oasis garden. This evolution however was very clear in the case of toys representing means of transport, for example in the making of miniature carts with a toy-mule as draught-animal typical for a sedentarized way of life. There were also some self-made toys, called bicycles, with which their owners ran over the sand dunes. However, more popular were the toy-cars as in the case of the Peugeot collective taxi made with wet sand. And young boys identified so much with this prestigious item of modernity that they themselves became a living car.

Although locally made or imported plastic toy-animals, often of bad quality, have invaded North Africa decades ago, children still make traditional toy-animals here and there. In the more important city shops plastic animals for children to ride on can be bought but they are also imported from Europe as a present by migrants visiting their family.

As among the Ghrib, cars and trucks fascinate Moroccan boys, as well those of the cities as those of remote areas. A boy from a village near Kenitra made an elaborated truck using thrown away oil filters as wheels. In another Moroccan village I witnessed how toys can change in response to new experiences. Up to then, the boys made a truck with an oil can, four wheels cut out of a tire, a steering wheel of wire and so on. However, as they observed during the reconstruction of the irrigation system how a concrete mixer was filled with a lifting tray attached to the mixer, they invented a way to attach a lifting tray to their toy-truck using a small tin can tray and a long wire attached to the steering wheel. When pulling the wire the sand or stones accumulated in the tray are thrown into the truck.

A final example of the influence of the modernization of North African and Saharan societies on toys and games refers to the use of telephones. In 1977, when no Ghrib family living in the oasis of El Faouar in the north-western Tunisian Sahara had a telephone, boys created their own telephone line by digging and covering a small trench in the sand, this way anticipating the role telephone communications would play in their own adult life. The same situation occurred at the end of the 1970s in a small Moroccan village where boys and girls had their own telephone lines using a long wire to which at both ends a little plastic pot was fixed. But even nowadays when the use of telephones has become much more frequent, Moroccan children do not only play with plastic telephones. Sometimes they still make their telephone themselves as in the case of a five year old boy playing with clay.

Changes in the toys and games of Northern African and Saharan children do not mainly come from foreign imports, as in the case of Asian or European toys. On the contrary, changes occur most of the time by two ways: by using local material and techniques to create toys referring to new items, and by using new material and techniques to produce toys referring to local themes.

Toys made by the children themselves are often very short living play objects. However, at the same time they are remade again and again, this way offering possibilities for change through internal and external influences:

  • change, or maybe more correct progress, due to ameliorated skills because of exercise and the child’s own development, whereby the toy becomes better adapted to the ludic functions it should have according to the child;

  • change because of environmental influences such as new material, learning from others how to do, shifts in interest promoted by social and economic change, influences by Western media and global toy marketing.

Finally, I feel inclined to say that in the sphere of ludic activities, where ancient and new types of toys and games mix daily, one should speak of subtle changes that reflect and sometimes foreshadow technological, economic, social and cultural evolution.

The commercialization of toys, making the more expensive industrially manufactured toys affordable only for middle class and high class families, creates a new distinction between Saharan and North African children, a distinction that did not exist when the toys where self-made. As the evolution towards a consumptive society is slowly but surely moving on in these regions, those children whose parents cannot afford to buy good quality toys not only will feel frustrated but at the same time they become less motivated to make themselves the ‘devaluated’ toys they usually play with. This situation results more than once in buying cheap toys of rather bad quality or even toys that are dangerous as safety control for toys are lacking in the region. This commercialization of toys also stimulates to look at toys as a gift from adults to children, an attitude that until recently was as good as non-existent there.

In general, one can claim that the self-made toys are quite quickly declining in Saharan and North African cities, a few exceptions left aside, such as toy-cars or toy-weapons made by boys. Moreover, the traditional self-made doll seems as good as forgotten in these cities, at least I have not found one made recently by a city girl in Morocco. Nevertheless, a lot of children, largely but not exclusively in rural areas, still have much fun in creating their own toys. The recent examples from Morocco, shown in this study, are sufficient proof for this.




[an error occurred while processing this directive]