Akua'ma (sing. akua'ba) statues are icons of Asante art. Familiar to American women who wear miniature replicas as brooches and decorate their homes with full-scale figures, akua'ma helped barren Asante women become fertile and ensured a safe delivery of a healthy infant. The Asante sculpture got its name from Akua who, according to oral tradition, was barren but desperately wanted children. She consulted a priest who advised her to commission a sculptor to carve an akua'ba, or "Akua's child." She was instructed to treat the little sculpture as if it were a real child. She secured it to her back with her wrapper, nursed it, put it to bed, and adorned it. She eventually became pregnant and had a successful birth. Following her example, barren women carried an akua'ba in the hope they too would conceive. After a successful birth, women either give their sculpted surrogate to a daughter to play with or return it to a priest to enshrine. This Dallas akua'ba is a classic example. The female figure has a very large round head and high, flattened forehead like those of royal children. Its neck is very long and ringed to suggest the creased flesh of a chubby baby. The figure is painted with lustrous black pigment and decorated with colorful beaded necklaces and earrings. All of these features visually express notions of feminine beauty among the Asante peoples. Akua'ma rarely depict male infants because inheritance in the matrilineal society of the Asante passes from mother to daughter. It is, therefore, desirable to give birth to a girl.
Doll (akua'ba), Ghana, Asante peoples, 20th century, wood, glass beads, and fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Henry H. Hawley III, 1981.173