ASANTE (ACHANTI, ASHANTE, ASHANTI)
Ghana
Asante akua'ba doll

The legend of the origination of the Akua'ba doll comes from the story of a woman named "Akua" (many variations of
the name are found as there are many variations of the spelling of "akua'ba") who could not get pregnant and went to
a local diviner or priest and commissioned the carving of a small wooden doll. She carried and cared for the doll as if
it were her own child, feeding it, bathing it and so on. Soon the people in the village started calling it "Akua" "ba" -
meaning "Akua's child", since "ba" meant child. She soon became pregnant and her daughter grew up with the doll.

The legend and tradition still live on today...

If an Akan/Asante woman had difficulty conceiving she would be encouraged to visit a local shrine accompanied by a
senior woman in her family. There she might purchase a figure such as this, which would be placed for a period on
the altar, later to be reclaimed by the woman along with certain medicines. The sculpture was then carried, fed,
bathed, and otherwise cared for by the woman as if it was a living baby. It was thought that in doing this the woman
would have a better chance to have a healthy and beautiful baby. Once the woman conceived and had a successful
delivery, she would return the figure to the shrine as a form of offering. If the child died, the akua’ba might be kept by
the woman as a memorial.

The symbolism of these dolls is specific: “The flat, disk like head is a strongly exaggerated conception of the Akan
ideal of beauty:

Round or oval shaped heads are considered ideal and this is accomplished in actual practice by the gently modeling
of an infant’s soft cranial bones. The flat profile of these figures is also more practical when they are carried against
the back wrapped in the woman’s skirt. Also standard is the ringed neck, a convention for rolls of fat and hence
beauty and prosperity…the small scars seen on the faces of many akua’ba are those made for medicinal purposes as
protection against convulsions. Most Asante akua’ba have abstracted, horizontal arms and a cylindrical torso with
breasts and a navel, but ending in a base rather than human legs.

Sources: Sotheby's, AFRICA - The Art of A Continent, The Royal Art of Africa
A Fante mother carrying her child in a
wrapper on her back.
Photograph by Doran H. Ross
Legu, Ghana, 1976
An akua'ba tucked into the wrapper of
an Asante woman.
Photograph by Herbert M. Cole,
Ghana, 1972
An older, in my opinion, and nicely carved Akua'ba doll with glass beads.
Click on any picture to see larger version
The objects below are not in my collection
Examples below for reference purposes
Acuaba Fertility Doll - Ghana
Carved wood, beads - Early 20th century
Ex Collection Charles Ratton
Height: 10 ¼ in.
Galerie Flak, Paris
An example of a different style with arms and legs represented in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY

Akuaba Figure, 19th–20th century
Akan peoples; Ghana
Wood, beads, string; H. 10 2/3 in.
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.75)
A Fante doll on the left and 2 akua'ba ( plural- akua'mma) on the right.
This was a photo I took at the American Museum of Natural History in NY

The examples below are also from the collection at the American Museum of Natural History in NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY
American Museum of Natural History, NY

_______________________________________________________________________
THE PETER SCHNELL COLLECTION
f - BELLE POUPÉE DE FERTILITÉ, ASHANTI, AKAN, GHANA

LOCATION    ESTIMATE    AUCTION DATE  
Paris  1,500—2,500 EUR  Session 2
05 Dec 03 6:00 PM
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   2,280 EUR

haut. 33,9 cm

DETAILED DESCRIPTION
Grande figure akwaba, aux traits et volumes fortement stylisés. Selon les archétypes de la beauté en
pays Akan, l’accent est mis sur le large visage, au traitement épuré : grand disque légèrement
convexe uniquement animé par la ligne courbe des sourcils, et par le relief des grands yeux, du nez
et de la bouche; front haut et long cou annelé. Elle est ornée, en sa base, de cinq colliers de perles
de verre.

(Rough translation)
Great figure akwaba, with the strongly stylized features and volumes. According to prototypes' of the
beauty in Akan country, the stress is laid on the broad face, with the purified treatment: large slightly
convex disc only animated by the curved line of the eyebrows, and by the relief of the large eyes, the
nose and the mouth; high face and long ringed neck. It is decorated, in its base, of five collars of
glass shots.


PROVENANCE
Collectée par E. Storrer dans la région de Coasoet. Acquise par son propriétaire en 1974
Christie's - Paris
Art Africain, Océanien et Précolombien
Auction Date : Dec 8, 2004

Lot 102 :  POUPEE ASHANTI

Description
Ghana
Akua'ba, le corps cylindrique reposant sur une base circulaire,
supportant deux bras horizontaux, la grande tête ovale aplatie avec
les traits du visage stylisés en relief, le revers de la tête décoré d'un
échiquier entouré de motifs géométriques incisés, collier de perles de
verre blanches à la base. Patine noire et brillante.
Hauteur: 31.7 cm


Estimate:€ 600 - € 800
Price Realized:€ 1,997 / $ 2,406
Christie's - Paris
Art Africain, Océanien et Précolombien
Auction Date : Dec 8, 2004

Lot 101 :  POUPEE ASHANTI

Description
Ghana
Akua'ba, le corps cylindrique reposant sur une base circulaire,
supportant deux bras horizontaux, la grande tête ronde, aplatie, avec
les traits du visage sculptés en relief, le revers de la tête décoré de
motifs géométriques, colliers en perles de verre multicolores autour
du cou et à la base. Patine noire et brillante.
Hauteur: 26 cm


Estimate:€ 1,000 - € 1,500
Price Realized:€ 4,700 / $ 5,663
To go to a FANTASTIC article on akua'ba dolls and LOTS of examples of Akua'ba dolls, click on the link below
AKUA'S CHILD AND OTHER RELATIVES: NEW MYTHOLOGIES FOR OLD DOLLS
by DORAN H. ROSS
The piece below is a spectacular Asante seated female figure holding a gun in one hand and a bird
(dove?) in the other.

I have seen this piece in person and it is simply amazing!
I don't have the exact dimensions, but the piece is at least 4 feet tall.

It is in the
McDonald-Levy Collection
A group of Akua'ba dolls on display at Galerie Afrique in their space for Parcours des mondes 2006 in Paris