Monsanto and the Marafona Doll

I’m a sucker for souvenirs, especially if they’re being sold by children or little old ladies. In the beautiful Portuguese village of Monsanto, Neil, Rodrigo and myself were on our way back from exploring the castle ruins when we came across an elderly woman selling tiny Marafona dolls.

Quick history lesson…

The dolls are thought to have originated in Medieval times, during the wars between the Moors and the Christians.

“The Christians had conquered the castle of Monsanto but were soon under siege by the Moors. Things were getting desperate in the castle; they were running out of food, and there was no sign of the Moors giving up. Then a local lady (who no one remembers the name, hence the faceless doll) had a great idea. They should take the last cow and feed it the last bucket of grain and throw it over the wall…

Everyone agreed it was the only solution, so they fed the cow and threw it over the wall, and waited…

When the Moors cut the cow open and found its belly full of grain they realised they were in for a long wait, as the Christians obviously still had loads of food, so they packed up and left. This day is still celebrated in Monsanto with the “Festa da Nossa Senhora das Cruzes”, when the women of the village fill terracotta vases with flowers and throw them over the castle walls. The Marafona is also reputed to have special powers, she will keep thunderstorms away from her house, and if you put her under your mattress on your wedding night you will be guaranteed a fertile marriage…” Story credit goes to Miss_Kcc on Flicker.

Back to the old lady.

She was probably ninety, maybe older, sitting on the steps of a Monsanto house with a bowl full of tiny dolls. She stopped us, begging (in Portuguese) that we buy a doll from her. According to Rodrigo (the only fluent Portuguese speaker among us), the dolls were handmade by her daughter and herself, unique to this village and we’d not be able to find them anywhere else. Rod was convinced this little old lady was legit and so were we, so we helped the poor lady and bought two dolls for 10 euros.

Further down the road we stopped at a souvenir shop for a couple of beers. Surprise surprise, the souvenir shop also sold Marafona dolls, half the price of those that we’d just been sold by the little old lady. Cheated!

Have you been to Monsanto? Do you have a Portuguese Marafona doll? 

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