African textiles, £10.99
Asante (Ashanti), early 20th
Wooden figure with a distinctive, thin circular head
One of the most distinctive wooden carvings of the Asante is the small doll with a flat oval-shaped head called akua'ba (‘fertility doll'), a term which goes back to at least the 1920s.
Akua'ba dolls are used by women who fear infertility. It is important for women to be successful in having children. Infertility, miscarriage or infant death are feared by women as they raise suspicions of witchcraft. A woman who has many children who survive is highly regarded and plays a role in girls' initiation rites. Among the Asante the line of descent passes through the female, so women are expected to bear female children to continue this line.
If a woman does not conceive, she consults a herbalist or priest who supplies the akua'ba doll. Following consultations with the priest the woman carries the doll on her back, tied by a cloth in the position in which a real child is carried, until she becomes pregnant.
Sometimes fathers buy or make these dolls for their daughters to play with, believing that this will influence child-bearing in adult life.
M.D. McLeod, The Asante (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)
H.M. Cole and D.H. Ross, The arts of Ghana-1 (University of California - Los Angeles)