In the Papiamento language spoken on the southern Caribbean island of Curaçao, the word “chichi” refers to a respected elder sister or female relative to whom younger family members would go to for advice or emotional support.
Chichi dolls are also one of the most fun souvenirs to bring home from a vacation to Curacao. They are the creation of artist Serena Israel who has received some criticism for the fact that they are, well, a little curvy. Basically, they’ve got big butts and big boobs and some islanders see that as offensive.
But Serena’s original chichi doll came to life as she was teaching an art class on how to draw the female form, and she fell in love with it.
What I appreciate most about Senera Israel’s dolls is the employment opportunity and creative outlet she provides for many women in Curaçao. Serena creates the molds and then consigns the decorative painting to women in the area who would otherwise not have a source of income outside the home.
They take home the lifeless images and then just go wild with color, clothing and ideas.
These are not necessarily inexpensive trinkets. Serena pays her artists a decent wage. Some of the dolls run into several hundred dollars, but most will fit into your carry-on luggage. Pack it well, because mine broke on our flight home. 🙁
The Serena Israel Factory is on a dusty road in the central island village of Santa Catharina near the Ostrich Farm, but you can also find chichi dolls in folk art galleries around the island. A great place to find them Brievengat, one of several historic homes, or landhuis, to be transformed into art galleries, museums and performance theatres that introduce visitors to the creativity of islanders.
And as much as I would like offer you a link to purchase these now, the only places you can buy these colorful piece of Caribbean folk art are on the Dutch Antilles islands of Curaçao and nearby Bonaire. You’ll just have to go to Curaçao and get your very own, and perhaps meet the wonderful women who make your chichi so delightful.