Asante fertility figure, Ghana


14 2/5 x 6 1/3 x 2 in. (36.5 x 16 x 5 cm)


About this object

The Asante call a carved figure such as this one akua’ba. It would be carried and cared for by women who wish to conceive. It is said that women obtain these figures and care for them in order to persuade children to come from the land of ghosts to the land of the living.

The shape of the figure’s head and facial features represent a standardized ideal of beauty among the Asante and the Akan people in general. The arched brows, high forehead, and slightly flattened head are greatly admired. The rings around the neck represent the rolls of fat, which are a sign of wealth and well-being. The body of the akua’ba is usually in the shape of a T with horizontal arms above a perpendicular column.

The figures are generally female, since in this matrilineal society, women generally prefer having a daughter since her children will belong to the matriliny and will later add to its wealth.

The name akua’ba comes from a story about a woman named Akua who could not conceive. She consulted a priest who served one of the many Akan deities, and he told her to carry a small wooden figure of an infant on her back; she was instructed to care for it as she would her own child, and people began to call the carving akua’ba or Akua’s child. She soon became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. From that time onward, women who want to conceive followed Akua’s example.

The asymmetry of this particular akua’ba is unusual.

Philip F. W Bartle. “The Universe Has Three Souls. Notes on Translating Akan Culture.” Journal of Religion in Africa. 1983, Vol. 14, Fasc. 2 (1983): 85-11.

“Female Fertility Figure.” The Collection. The MET. Accessed May 3, 2023.