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article image'She's black like me': 'Queens of Africa' steal Barbie's thunder

By Yukio Strachan     Jan 17, 2014 in World
Lagos - All Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya wanted to do was buy his young niece a black doll for her birthday. But when he arrived at a store in Lagos, Nigeria, he ran into a problem.
"I realized that they had an array of different dolls but none of them were black and they were rather pricey," he told CNN.
So, he decided to try other stores and came up with the same result. That's when it hit him.
"I thought okay, you know what? Rather than complain and wish, why don't you actually create one," he said.
In 2007, in the sleepy suburb of Surulere in Lagos, the 'Queens of Africa' doll collection was born, according to ITN.
Each doll represents the three major tribes of Nigeria -- there's Nneka (Igbo), Azeehah (Hausa) and Wuraola (Yoruba). The dolls don unique traditional attire complete with head dresses, crowns and other hand made accessories," he said in a news release.
Living in the world’s most populated Black nation, Okoya sells between 6,000 and 9,000 of his Queens of Africa and Naija Princesses a month. In a nation of around 170 million people, he has 10-15% of a small but fast-growing market, he said, Reuters in Lagos reported.
Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya presents dolls to children.
Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya presents dolls to children.
Public handout via news release
Dolls: more than a toy
One of the reasons for its popularity may be due to a theory from child development.
"To the vast majority of people, toys are mere play items or pacifiers for children. Little thought goes into which toys best serve the purpose as a tool for a child's development. Children mentally absorb positive and negative influences which can later be detected in their character, especially in their teenage years," Okoya said. "We need to see toys for what they really are ... A fun developmental tool."
In the United States, a doll's impact on a child's development was proven in the 1940’s when Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted the famous "Doll Test."
It was this research that influenced the landmark 1954 decision from the United States Supreme Court to rule school segregation to be unconstitutional.
In the study, the Clarks administered a test to 16 black children ages 6 to 9 in which they showed them a black doll and a white doll and asked them what they thought of each.
Their responses shocked the Court. Eleven of them said that the black doll looked "bad," and nine of them thought that the white doll looked "nice."
"These children saw themselves as inferior, and they accepted the inferiority as part of reality," Dr. Kenneth Clark said at the time.
The study provided scientific evidence of the destructive psychological impact of discrimination.
Mattel vs Okoya
Mattel, the world's largest toy company, has been selling black dolls for decades, but says its presence in sub-Saharan Africa is "very limited". The firm does not have any plans for expansion into this region to share, according to a spokesman, Alan Hilowitz.
That's fine with Okoya. He is already planning on expanding his doll line to other African ethnic groups. He's working on a deal with South Africa's Game, owned by Massmart, a part of Wal-Mart, to sell to 70 shops across Africa, Reuters in Lagos reported.
The African Queens dolls are also gaining popularity beyond Nigeria. Okoyo has already begun receiving orders to export them to schools and individuals in the United States and some European countries.
'It's a good doll'
Now when Okoyo goes to toy departments in shopping malls across Lagos, he gets to see other little girls have the experience he wanted his niece to have seven years ago: to show "African children that 'black is beautiful
It seems to be working.
Asked what she thought of the 'Queens of Africa' doll, 5-year-old Ifunya Odiah said, "I like it because it's a good doll and it's black like me," she said.
"A Good doll."
"Black like me."
The late Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark would be proud.
More about Queens of Africa, Taofick Okoya, Barbie doll, Black Children Dolls, Pretty girl
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