Along with encouraging the use of cornhusks in Nepali craftwork and employing women, these dolls are also important for the preservation of Nepali culture.
Doll making has been a tradition preserved in Nepal for many generations. Village children did not have much access to dolls to play with until Nepal opened its borders for trade with India and China. Mothers would make toys out of wood, or cotton for their children to play with. This is still practiced in many remote villages of Nepal. Today, dolls are a symbol of Nepali artistry and are sold as souvenirs by handicraft stores to target both tourists and locals alike.
Located in the kernel of the ancient city of Patan, Sisters’ Creation hosts a coterie of female artists involved in the creation of dolls. The organisation started 24 years ago with the initiative of four sisters who were impressed by the making of ethnic dolls and its promotion in the market abroad. The organisation sells its dolls as mementos for people to take with them after their visit—something to remind them of Nepal.
Laxmi Nakarmi, along with her three sisters got their inspiration for doll making during their school days. In their visit to the library, they read in a Californian newspaper about how corn husk was being used to make a variety of items like Christmas decorations. Amused by this, they developed an interest in the collection of corn husk and started making dolls out of it. Initially, they made dolls only in a small proportion and would sell it to handicraft stores around Kathmandu. Over the years, these women started making dolls of all the diverse ethnicities across Nepal. Whether it is Newari, Khas-Pahadi, Rautes, Kiratis or Sherpa—the dolls of each ethnicity have been made different through intricate designs in their facial appearance, colour, and attire. Along with the fabrication of dolls, the organisation also makes Christmas décor, key chains, mats, boxes, and a variety of other crafts.
“The cornhusks are first collected from the suburban farms and villages and are submerged in water for extra softness. The husks are then coloured in the same way we dye clothing. First boiled, and then dyed depending on what colour we want. The tone will differ depending on the type of doll we make. For Newars, we need black colour for the Haku Patasi (Newari traditional wear), while the creation of a Pahadi-Khas (a hill ethnicity) doll requires shades of red and green for the making of the Gunyo Cholo (traditional wear of the Nepali hill community). After it has been dyed, it can then be moulded to make just any shape. The size of the dolls range from an inch to almost 36 inches—the average size being four inches,” explains Laxmi. Sisters’ Creation has helped many women by giving them an incentive to work—by employing them, and teaching a craft that requires less labour. “By developing a skill, these women become self-confident, and can live independently,” Laxmi opines.
Taramaya, a 70-year-old woman involved in doll making tells us her story: “Laxmi invited me to help her with the organisation two years ago. Being an old woman, it is good to have a little bit of pocket money without having to ask my children. Although my children provide me with food, clothing, and other necessities — I want to spend my own money when I go out to temples and religious gatherings. Most of the time, I do my share of work from home, but I do enjoy coming here occasionally to do it. It is also a good pastime for me as I get to meet with women of my age and chat.”
She adds further, “I have no physical hassles in making dolls, and I am able to complete 1500 of these dolls in about 10 to 15 days. I personally like this work because it keeps me busy, and I am able to do this anytime and just anywhere—even while I am watching TV, or when there is no light.”
The organisation has been able to successfully sustain itself, but Laxmi believes that for any handicraft organisation to prosper, it is necessary to target the international market as well. Acknowledging this, Laxmi has conducted exhibitions in India, Dubai and the USA, and she plans to do more in the international scene in the near future.
Laxmi mentions, “The reason I chose corn husk for the manufacture of my products is to show whether we can sustain our lives through it. I want to show how something like corn husk—when rightly moulded and toned—can work wonders by vividly showcasing Nepal and Nepali culture.”
Along with encouraging the use of corn husks in Nepali craftwork and employing women, these dolls are also important for the preservation of Nepali culture. The young generation is unaware of these traditional crafts, and its importance to Nepal .As generations pass by, doll making may lose its charm and be considered a dying art. Sisters’ Creation strives for the sustenance of this art, so that it won’t ever lose its essence, and can be passed down to further generations.