Luakam Anambé never owned a doll. So when her granddaughter arrived, she wanted one particular gift for the newborn—a doll that looked like her. When she couldn’t find one, a business idea was born.
Indigenous (native) dolls represent a number of groups in Latin America. But in Brazil, home to nearly 900,000 people identifying as Indigenous, they remain mostly absent.
The Indigenous Anambé people live in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
“Before, only white dolls existed. Then came the black ones, but Indigenous ones didn’t appear,” says Anambé, wearing a beaded necklace and a headdress of delicate orange feathers.
Anambé decided to make one. She crafted a doll with brown skin and gave it long, dark hair and the face and body paint used by her people.
Since 2013, Anambé has sold more than 5,000 dolls at local fairs and through social media. Her growing business in Rio de Janeiro is a world removed from the Amazonian state of Para, where her life began.
She was one of 15 children. Anambé’s parents sent her and two sisters to live and work at a plantation. At seven years old, she looked after the plantation owner’s toddler. She remembers being rebuked after asking the owner’s wife for a doll: She should work, not play, Anambé recalls being told. She never received any pay.
“We’re fighters, in a fight to survive,” she says, referring to Indigenous people who regularly face peril from Amazon land grabbers, loggers, ranchers, and miners. Before colonization (the act of taking over a place by outsiders), “there were millions of Indigenous people in Brazil. Today, there are far fewer.”
Anambé worked for years as a cleaning lady in Para state’s capital. Eventually, she landed a sewing job in Rio and sent for her daughter, by then in her twenties. Soon she began making dolls.
Anambé and her daughter, Atyna Porã, now produce dolls for a growing clientele. “When Indigenous women see the dolls, they sometimes cry,” Anambé says. “They feel represented.”
The mother-daughter team makes dolls bearing the paint patterns of five other Indigenous groups. Each is handsewn, dressed in traditional clothes, and carefully painted with a sharpened tree branch, following Indigenous custom.
Anambé named her company after Porã’s daughter, Anaty. In addition, a nonprofit begun by Anambé provides seamstress training to other women—helping them provide for themselves financially.
The mother-daughter dollmakers see their dolls helping to break down prejudice against Indigenous women.
“It’s like a mirror,” Porã says. “Through the doll, we see ourselves.”
Why? One of God’s Hebrew names is El Roi. It means “the God who sees.” As the omniscient, omnipresent Maker, He sees and loves each who bears His image.