A fine Akuaba fertility doll (African Art) from the Akan people of Ghana. The carving is made of hand carved wood, and measures approx. 8” tall, it is in excellent vintage condition with aging and toning to the wood suggestive of a date of around the first half to middle of last century. This is one of two similar sculptures that came from an estate of an African Missionary, see my store for the other.
The history of these pieces:
The akua'ba doll represents a highly stylized female figure. The solar form of the head is underlined by a circular motif, comparable to rays of sunlight. Considered fertility dolls, these wooden dolls were worn by pregnant women, or those hoping to become pregnant, tight in their loincloth, in order to promote fecundity and the birth of beautiful children.
Disk-headed akuaba figures remain one of the most recognizable forms in African art, the flat, disk like head is a strongly exaggerated convention of the Akan ideal of beauty: a high, oval forehead, which traditionally was developed by the practice of gently modeling of an infant's soft cranial bones. The flattened shape of the sculpture also serves a practical purpose, since women carry the figures against their backs wrapped in their skirt, evoking the manner that infants are carried.
The delicate mouth of the figure is small and set low on the face. Akuaba also function to protect against deformity or even ugliness in a child. During pregnancy, Akan women are not supposed to gaze upon anything (or anybody) physically unattractive, lest it influence the features of her own child. The traits that define the akuaba are meant as prayers or invocations for the physical beauty of an anticipated child. Most akuaba have abstract arms and a cylindrical torso with simple indications of the breasts; the torso ends in a base as opposed to human legs.
The name akuaba comes from the Akan legend of a woman named Akua who was barren, but like all Akan women, she desired most of all to bear children. She consulted a priest who instructed her to commission the carving of a small wooden child and to carry the surrogate child on her back as if it were real. Akua cared for the figure as she would a living baby, even giving it gifts of beads and other trinkets. She was laughed at and teased by fellow villagers, who began to call the wooden figure Akuaba, or "Akua's child." Eventually though, Akua conceived a child and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Soon thereafter, even her detractors began adopting the same practice to overcome barrenness.
All genuine akuaba are female images, primarily because Akua's first child was a girl but also because Akan society is matrilineal, so women prefer female children who will perpetuate the family line. Girls will also assist in all household chores, including the care of any smaller children in the family.
After influencing pregnancy, akuaba are often returned to shrines as offerings to the spirits who responded to the appeals for a child. A collection of figures becomes an advertisement for the spirits' ability to help women conceive. Families also keep akuaba as memorials to a child or children. The figures become family heirlooms and are appreciated not for their spiritual associations, but rather because they are beautiful images that call to mind a loved one.
Vintage African Akuaba Hand Carved Wood Fertility Doll, Sculpture (No 2)