Akua’ba (pl. akua’ma; meaning ‘Akua’s children’) are small fertility figures found in shrines across Akanland. The Akan believe that, "the name akua’ba comes from the legend of a woman named Akua who was barren, but like all Akan women, she desired most of all to bear children. She consulted a priest who instructed her to commission the carving of a small wooden child and to carry the surrogate child on her back as if it were real. Akua cared for the figure as she would a living baby, even giving it gifts of beads and other trinkets. She was laughed at and teased by fellow villagers, who began to call the wooden figure akua’ba, or “Akua’s child.” Eventually though, Akua conceived a child and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Soon thereafter, even her detractors began adopting the same practice to overcome barrenness."2
Following the example set by Akua, barren Akan women, or those newly married and hoping for children, have a personalised akua’ba figure created to reverse the curse of infertility. These figures are blessed and consecrated by Akan priests in atano shrines; the priest prays to the spirits to deliver a living child to his client. Once consecrated, the owners of the figure must care for it like it is indeed a living child, the figure must be caressed, carried, protected and fed, some are even given jewellery in the form of glass beads and clothing to enhance their beauty.
Once the owner becomes a mother through birth, the akua’ba is returned to the priest and added to the spirit’s shrine as a thanks offering for the real child delivered. Atano shrines can feature up to 10 akua’ma figures; the large number of figures is a sign of the spirits power and ability to help Akan women conceive. In some cases, the akua’ba figure is kept by the family as an heirloom or giving to the child as a toy.
NOTE: The Akan refer to all human figural sculptures as akua’ma even those not intended as fertility figures.
Common features among all akua’ma:
Regional variations (Fante sub-group):