The breathtaking story and symbolic uses of the Asantes Akuaba doll

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The Akuaba doll is a special doll much loved by the Ghanaian communities, especially the Asante. The Akuaba doll gained its name from an Asante woman named Akua who was barren and in dire need of a baby. Due to her sterility of hers, she was branded a witch by her neighbors accusing her of “eating” (killing) all the babies in her womb. In desperation, she consulted a local diviner for a child. I guess after her consultations with ancestors through some rituals she asked Akua to commission a carver to carve a doll in the likeness of the child she dreamed of having. She vividly described all the features she admires and wishes to see in her would-be child that reflected the concept of Asante beauty. Some rituals were performed on the doll and given to Akua. The story continues that Akua cared for, carried and treated the wooden doll as if she were human. She soon became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter exactly like the doll. From now on, all sterile women were asked to choose a doll similar to ‘Akua’ (The name of the sterile woman) ‘ba’ (Child). This explains why the doll was called Akuaba doll until today.

The doll is still returned to the shrine as an offering after the baby is safely delivered. If the child passes into the land of the dead, the doll will be kept by the mother as a memorial to the child.

It is also worth knowing that the characteristics of the doll have symbolic meanings. For example, the doll’s culminating or exaggerated head symbolizes the seat of wisdom. The flat forehead is an Asante ideal of beauty. The whole body is in ovals and circles which are symbols of beauty in the Ghanaian community. The neck which should be strangely ringed is a symbol of beauty and prosperity. The structured marks or “scars” that appear on the face, particularly on the forehead, are for medical and spiritual protection against convulsions and the forces of evil.

Akuaba doll is carved from hard wood called “Sese”. The carved doll is then blackened with a mixture of soot from the bottom of the pots and the white from the raw eggs.

As already pointed out, the doll was mainly used as a fertility doll to charge infertile women with fertility powers. The doll also has other functions. For example, the doll is used as an amulet in the search for missing children. In the past it was believed that dwarves stole children. Therefore, to get them back, a doll that is an exact replica of the missing child is sculpted and placed at the entrance to the forest. The dwarves would mistakenly take the doll and release the baby in their possession.

In some ethnic societies such as the Anlos of the Southern Volta region, a wooden doll is carved and placed in the coffin of a dead twin to prevent his soul from taking his living twin. Akuaba doll is also used for interior decoration of rooms and offices.

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