Akan Art , Ghana

Akua'ba Fertility Figure in Akan Art, Ghana

The focus here on Asante, Fante and Brong (Bono) people 


Akua'ba figure story is among the most famous legends in African cultural history. In central Ghana, a young Asante's woman named Akua (Wednesday born) was having trouble conceiving a child (ba). She consulted a local priest, who divined that Akua should commission a woodcarving of a little child. After it was blessed by the fertility deity in the rites conducted by him, Akua was constructed to treat the carving as if it were a living child: to carry it on her back, feed, Bath, sleep with it, and adorning it with beads, earrings and necklaces. When Akua appeared in the village with the carving on her back she was the target of mockery: "Look at Akua'ba" (Look at Akua's child). But eventually Akua became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl. Her success encouraged other women struggling with infertility to follow her, and subsequently the carving was called Akua'ba in her honor (plr. Akua'maa or akua'mma). (Cameron 1996:43).

The legend and tradition continued as most carvers carved these “Akua’ba” dolls and people bought it with the belief that it will free them from a barren situation. Once the woman conceived and had a successful delivery, she would return the figure to the shrine as a form of offering. But if the child died, the “Akua’ba” might be kept by the woman as a memorial.

The popularity of the akua'ba figures, the symbol of African female beauty and fecundity accounted for great number of variations on the conventional forms of the classic akua'ba fertility doll that had been evolved: instead of the limbless cylindrical truncated torso, naturalistic legs appeared sometimes full-bodied figures. In addition, there been also dramatic variation in the sizes, either increased or miniaturized. Some contemporary artists also expand the concept of akua'ba as "fertility doll" that traditionally associated with facilitating the conception of a child, to include a much larger conceptual association of fertility, as can be seen in figure no. 30 and no. 34. Such are believed to be recent twentieth-century innovation within the akua'ba sculptural tradition. (E. Cameron 1996:48-56).


AKUA'BA Fertility Figure - ASANTE People

Disk-headed akua'ba figures remain one of the most recognizable forms in African art. Akua'ba were consecrated by priests and carried by women who hope to conceive a child. The flat, dislike head is a strongly exaggerated convention of the Akan ideal of beauty: a high, oval forehead slightly flattened in actual practice by gentle modeling of an infant's soft cranial bones. The flattened shape of the sculpture also serves as practical purpose, since women carry the figures against their backs tucked into the wrapper, the manner infants are carried. The fertility doll helps the aspiring hopeful young Asante women who firmly believe that the fertility figures will allow them to become pregnant. And this belief has stimulated the proliferation of the genre and the variations within it (E. Cameron 1996:56). Females are, with rare exceptions the only sex represented in akua'maa. There are several reasons, but the essential one is that the Asante society is matrilineal and family line passed from mother to daughters, not from father to sons (McLeod 1981a : 19, 164). Besides, daughters help in household chores and younger siblings (Sieber & Walker 1987: 44).