Akua’ba The Ashanti Fertility Doll
A Brief History of Akua’ba
Ghana is the home of wooden Akua’ba dolls. The Asante and Fante peoples are popular for their skill and craftsmanship in akua’ba production. The Lobi, alongside other tribes have their own unique akua’ba style. Akua’ba are used primarily in rituals to evoke or improve fertility. The women carry the dolls on their backs in the belief they would help spur conception, or guarantee the child is attractive.
Legend has it that akua’ba derives its name from a barren Asante woman known as Akua. Her neighbours labelled her a witch who “ate” up her children. Driven by desperation, she consulted a diviner who asked that she pay a carver to make a doll in the likeness of her dream child. Akua reportedly described vivid features she desired in her would-be child, reflecting the Asante concept of beauty. Certain rituals followed before the doll was given to Akua.
She treated the doll as she would a child, and soon became pregnant eventually bearing a daughter exactly like the doll. This inspired an instruction that all barren women go for a similar “Akua” (the barren woman’s name) “ba” (child). Thus the name that has persisted till this day.
An offering of the doll is returned to the shrine upon safe delivery of the child. Where the child is not born alive (“passes on to the land of the dead”), the woman keeps the doll as a memorial.
What Akua’ba Features Represent
Akua’ba are carved from the Sese hardwood. The carved doll is then blackened with a blend of cooking pot soot and raw egg albumen.
The features of an akua’ba doll have plenty of significance. The exaggerated head of a doll is a symbol of the seat of wisdom. The Asante consider a flat forehead to be the ideal of beauty. The Asante akua’ba also comes with large, discoid heads.
To appeal to the general Ghanaian community, beauty is captured through ovals and rings along the entire body. A ringed neck symbolises beauty and prosperity, while textured scars or marks in the foreheads or other part of the face is for medicinal and spiritual protection from evil forces or convulsions.
Other Uses of Akua’ba
While primarily promoting fertility, the doll is also a charm used to search for missing children. Dwarves were once believed to be responsible for stealing children, so a doll that is an exact replica of the missing child would be placed at the forest entrance. The dwarves would pick up the doll, releasing the child in the process.
The akua’ba is ritually washed and cared for when not in active use. It is less likely to find custom-carved akua’ba as mass-produced akua’ba souvenirs have flooded local markets in West Africa. These are not always used as an heirloom in ritual procedures. In many regions, akua’ba has become famous as a good luck charm, dispelling barrenness in other areas of life.