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Akua’ba are ritual fertility dolls from Ghana and nearby areas. The best known akua’ba are those of the Ashanti people, whose akua’ba have large, disc-like heads. Other tribes in the region (f.ex. Lobi people ) have their own distinctive style of akua’ba.
Traditionally, these dolls are carried on the back of women either hoping to conceive a child, or to ensure the attractiveness of the child being carried. When not in active use, the akua’ba would be ritually washed and cared for.
Traditional use still continues in some areas. The form of the akua’ba has also gained currency as a general symbol of good luck.
Legend has it that there once lived a woman called Akua who was unable to conceive. Because Akan society is matrilineal, it is extremely important that Akan women are able to give birth, preferably female children to carry the family line. So women who are barren often find themselves ostracised in their communities. The story goes that Akua visited a fetish priest who carved her a wooden doll to carry on her back. Akua took the doll home and cared for it as she would a real baby. She was laughed at by those in her village, who referred to the doll as Akua’ba’, meaning Akua’s child. Soon Akua fell pregnant and gave birth to a girl and it is said that from then on women adopted the practice of carrying ‘AKUABA’ on their backs in order to conceive.
Though carrying AKUABA on your back to conceive is not as widespread as it was in the past, the practice is still carried out some part of Ghana today.
If a woman wanted to conceive, she would visit a local shrine accompanied by a elder female family member. A carving would then be commissioned by the local priest, who would then give the doll to the woman, sometimes along with traditional medicine. The woman would then carry the doll on her back tied by cloth the way a real child would, and she would also feed and bathe the doll – by doing this she’s thought to have a better chance of having a beautiful healthy baby. Once the woman conceives and successfully gives birth, the AKUABA is often returned to the shrine as a form of offering to the spirits for granting them a child. Families sometimes also keep their AKUABA dolls as a memorial if the child died.