An old carved wood Akuaba, sometimes known as an Ashanti doll or a Fanti doll, from Ghana.
This figure of a woman with a large head is hand carved in local lightweight wood from Ghana. The figure is typical in form with a large disc shaped head, long wide neck, outstretched arms and a female torso.
There are many fascinating aspects to the doll.
Firstly, folklore tells that the tradition began with a woman named Akua who couldn’t conceive. She consulted her spiritual guide who advised her to have a small doll carved and then care for it as if it were a real child. If she did this properly and proved that she knew how to look after a child, she would conceive. Despite ridicule from the people of her village she continued to look after the doll until she became pregnant and had a beautiful healthy daughter.
From then on, women wanting children would commission their own doll to be carved.
The dolls are always female despite representing children in general. This area of Africa, the west and ivory Coast are matrilineal societies. This means that it is the women, not the men, who keep the family name. this also means that fertility and family are their greatest concern. Because the female carries on the family name, daughters are considered more precious than sons and this is why the doll is a female.
Not only does the doll promote a healthy pregnancy and childbirth, but also the design of the doll promotes desirable traits for the new child. A female body, a long wide neck represents prosperity, outstretched arms signify generosity and a round face, beauty. The large disc shaped head symbolises intelligence.
Once a child had been born, and if it were a girl, the child would continue to play with the doll. It was believed that by caring for a doll, the daughter would understand how to care for a child of her own. As the girl grew older she would play with the doll, dressing it in clothes and jewellery. Some of the dolls have holes around the head so that earrings can be attached. When older, it would also promote her own fertility. In turn the doll would be passed down the generations.
When the doll came to the end of its cycle, it would still be regarded as sacred and symbols of good luck. When not in use they continued to be ritually washed and cared for in the home.
Witchcraft is still believed to be a problem in parts of Africa and these dolls would give protection against evil. It was believed that looking at an ugly or deformed sight could affect the baby, so looking at beautiful doll the mother would have protection against this happening. The design markings, like the top of the head of this doll also warded off evil spells and curses.
The doll measures approx. 22.5cm x 10.5cm x 4cm. It is in a worn condition with a great patina and various knocks, chips, marks and blemishes consistent with it being well loved and used.