Ninay, The Filipino Doll


August 2011

By Edmundo B. Cabral, Jr.


“Two good friends dreamed of having a doll with a Filipino face.  They didn’t only make their dream come true, they created a masterpiece that could represent the Filipino culture and heritage to the world.”

In a casual conversation in 1999, two friends learned that they shared a common fascination and lifelong romance with dolls. They asked each other, “Wouldn’t it be nice for the Philippine costumes to be worn by a doll with a Filipino face?” That simple question inspired a noble collaboration that would bring about the first authentic Filipino doll in history.

Philippine fashion icon Patis Tesoro and San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez, through the Balikatan sa Kaunlaran (BSK) Foundation, worked together to create a doll that captures the details of the Malay, Spanish, and Chinese mestizo features of the Filipino. The costumes are faithful miniatures of dresses made from piña, raffia or jusi materials which are intricately embroidered, beaded, and/ or hand-painted. Even undergarments are considered essential for the dolls, thus their camisoles are made of cotton and chemises are made of silk. Since the most delicate part of doll-making is the details, the dolls are also accessorized with alpajor or jeweled hair combs, earrings, necklaces and footwear. It must be ensured that every doll is authentic in costume as well as in its features.

fildoll-08After three years of ardent and painstaking efforts for its development, the Ninay doll was successfully launched at the Club Filipino on the 12th of July 2002. The name Ninay was taken from the heroine of Pedro Paterno’s 19th century novel of the same title.

A marvel of handiwork, Ninay dolls are eighteen to twenty four inches in height and are presented as single piece or in a tableaux form consisting of two or five dolls. The Ninay doll is considered a high-end product because of its quality. It is sculpted from fine, hand-painted resin and dressed up in elaborate Filipina costume replete with intricate beadwork and embroidery.

The BSK Foundation also created the Nenita doll, a smaller version of the Ninay doll. This was undertaken by the foundation because they wanted the product to be more affordable to the masses. Nenita is twelve inches tall; its body parts remain to be made out of hand-carved resin. Its clothes are made of closely similar materials, if not the same as, the Ninay dolls in order to maintain the product quality. Even though the Nenita is smaller in scale compared to Ninay dolls, the BSK Foundation assures that Nenita does not fall short in impact and quality.

Ninay’s Debut

The Department of Trade and Industry – National Capital Region (DTI-NCR) came across this beautiful doll and immediately gave its support in the form of product promotion. DTI-NCR helped introduce the Ninay dolls to the market as the One Town, One Product (OTOP) of San Juan during the six-day Mega Trade Exhibit at SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City in November 2005.

Appreciating the value and potential of the Ninay doll, the City Government of San Juan, under the leadership of then Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito, declared the Ninay doll as its OTOP on 28 June 2006, through Resolution No. 49. It further assisted the BSK Foundation to push the product into the market scene.

Ninay dolls found its way into the various museums in the country which prompted BSK Foundation to create dioramas that vividly depicted the Philippine way of life, its culture and many traditions during the Spanish era. Among the significant places the Ninay dolls became instruments of history and culture are the Museo Ning Angeles in Angeles City, Marikina Doll Museum, Olongapo Doll Museum, Las Piñas Doll Museum, Dr. Pio Valenzuela Doll Museum in Valenzuela City and Butterfly Haven in Pulilan, Bulacan.

Both Ninay and Nenita are presented as stand-alone renditions or in tableaux setting. It may also come with a backdrop to complement and enhance the geographical and/ or historical context of the featured dolls. Among the best-sellers in their collection are the “Lola Basyang”, “Unang Guro”, “Burdadora” and “Nagsisimba”.

fildoll-05The dolls are available in selected malls in the metro and at the BSK Foundation shop in San Juan. However, they consider word-of-mouth as their most effective strategy in promoting the dolls. The Ninay doll has now reached the overseas market and is gradually reaching North America. Personal accounts of our ambassadors as well as foreigners or Filipinos abroad can well attest to buyers are Philippine Ambassadors who bring the dolls to their offices abroad, not only to use it as a display but to showcase our country’s rich culture to our partner countries.

Creating livelihood during the holiday seasons, BSK Foundation gets bulk orders intended for both corporate and personal giveaways. It farms out the production of the dolls to different communities in San Juan to accommodate the bulk orders. This way, the livelihood is spread to more citizens of San Juan and provides opportunities to generate income. For the love of their handiwork, BSK Foundation offers to help every patron in taking care of the dolls to the point of repairing and/ or replacing the doll’s outfit in case it gets damaged or worn-out, or if the patron simply wants a new look for their doll. As a personal touch, they also accept requests from clients for customized dolls. They have one client who showed a copy of their mother’s Amorsolo painting when she was a young lady and requested them to produce a replica doll as a present. These extra services make BSK Foundation’s products more personal, unique and charming. These Filipino dolls are apt reminders that we are a people rich in heritage, culture, and traditions. It is a celebration and a constant reminder of the indomitable spirit of the Filipino people. BSK Foundation hopes that in the future, every Filipino will have at least one Ninay or Nenita doll collection in their home to constantly remind us of the beauty of our past and how it has enriched our present.

Ninay was once a dream; it became a reality. If only one puts ones mind, heart, and hands to it, as what Patis Tesoro and Guia Gomez did, then nothing is unattainable.