Akuaba fertility doll
First part of the 20th century
Height: 12 ½ in. (31.5 cm)
Acquired from Galerie Philippe Dodier, France
Ex collection Dane & Todd McDowell, Oklahoma in the 1970s
Ex collection Lucas Ratton, Paris
Exhibited: Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, Feb. 1978
The akuaba fertility dolls represent youth and fertility. They were said to facilitate the conception of a child and ensure safe delivery at birth. Akan women carried the dolls with them at all times. They treated them as if they were living babies, cuddling them, dressing them up, etc.
Once a woman conceived and had a successful delivery, she would return the figure to the shrine as a form of offering.
The legend of the origination of the Akua'ba doll comes from the story of a woman named "Akua" who could not get pregnant. She went to a local priest who commissioned the carving of a small wooden doll. She carried and cared for the doll as if it were her own child. Soon the people in the village started calling it "Akua’ba" - meaning "Akua's child”. She soon became pregnant and her daughter grew up with the doll.
In terms of symbolism, the flat, disk-like head represents the Akan ideal of beauty. The ringed neck, depicting rolls of fat, are symbols of beauty and prosperity. The small scars seen on the face of the akua’ba were made for medicinal purposes as protection against convulsions.