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 adorned with string, a shell, glass beads, a coin from 1913 from British West Africa (British Gold
Coast is now modern Ghana)  and a red 'button' like coin that is also metal and was most likely a trade item.

11" 3/4 x 5" 1/4 x 1" 3/4

Acquired from Marc Assayag with Tookalook Native Arts
The objects below are not in my collection
Examples below for reference purposes
A group of Akua'ba dolls on display at Galerie Afrique in their space for Parcours des mondes 2006 in Paris