The Akuaba doll is a special doll held in high esteem among the Ghanaian communities, especially the Asantes. The Akuaba doll was named after an Asante woman named Akua, who was barren and desperately needed a child. Due to her sterility, her neighbors called her a witch, accusing her of ‘eating’ (killing) all the children in her womb. Desperate, she consulted a local fortune teller for a child. The fortune teller, after consulting with the ancestors through some rituals, asked Akua to commission a carver to carve a doll in the likeness of the child she dreams of having. She vividly described all the features that she admires and wishes to see in her future child, reflecting Asante’s concept of beauty. Some rituals were performed on the doll and it was given to Akua. The story continues that Akua cared for, carried and treated the wooden doll as if she were human. Soon, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter exactly like the doll. From now on, all barren women were asked to choose a similar doll ‘Akua’ (The name of the barren woman) ‘ba’ (Child). This explains why the doll has been called the Akuaba doll to date.
However, the doll is returned to the shrine as an offering after the safe delivery of the child. If the child passes to the land of the dead, the mother will keep the doll as a memorial to the child.
It is also worth knowing that the doll‘s features have symbolic meanings. For example, the culminated or exaggerated head of the doll symbolizes the seat of wisdom. The flat forehead is an Asante beauty ideal. The entire body is in ovals and circles which are symbols of beauty in the Ghanaian community. The neck, which must be strangely ringed, is a symbol of beauty and prosperity. The textured markings or ‘scars’ that appear on the face, especially the forehead, are for medicinal and spiritual protection against seizures and evil forces.
The Akuaba doll is carved from a hard wood called ‘Sese’. The carved doll is then blackened with a mixture of soot from the bottom of the pots and the albumen from raw eggs.
As already noted, the doll was used primarily as a fertility doll to charge barren 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 times past, it was believed that dwarves stole children. Therefore, in order to retrieve them, a doll that is an exact replica of the missing child is carved and placed at the entrance to the forest. The dwarves would mistakenly take the doll and release the child in their possession.
Among 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 its soul from going to find its living twin. The Akuaba doll is also used for interior decoration of rooms and offices.