Mma (Ancestor Memorial Figure)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found among the Anyi sub-group of the Akan (in the towns of Nzima, Krinjabo and Sanwi), mma figures are idealised and stylised depictions of deceased Akan royalty, chiefs, priests and other royal attendants. Sources state that when a member of royalty passed away, a mma figure was created to hold the soul of the deceased. These figures were then placed in mmaso (meaning 'place of the mma') shrines surrounded by mma figures of attendants, including musicians and priests, to entertain the dead in the afterlife. A single mmaso shrine can hold several generations of mma figures of leaders and chiefs and is usually the focal point for annual celebrations to commemorate past royal ancestors.

According to Alisa Lagamma, "before the figures are placed in the mmaso, the current queen mother addresses the deceased with the invocation: Today we say our final goodbyes to you. Come, come and be incarnate in your mma so we can accompany you. Let no harm come to those who are here to sing your praises and cary you to your final resting place".

For more, see the UIMA Art & Life in Africa article HERE on Akan mma traditions.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all mma:

  • Made of clay
  • Height = 10 - 16 inches
  • Very large detailed head
    • Head leaning back
    • Head supported by long ringed neck
  • Face turned slightly upwards
    • Eyes closed
    • Protruding slit eyes
    • Scarification marks between brows, on cheeks and temples
  • Shortened cylindrical body
    • Rudimentary body
    • Carved nude
  • Short arms are usually perpendicular to body
    • Outstretched in front of body
    • Palms usually facing upwards
    • Only in rare cases are arms down by figure's sides
  • Most figures standing
  • Very small or absent feet
  • Hairstyles, headdresses and accessories used to highlight individual characteristics
  • Small points at the corners of mouth representing moustache also used to highlight individuality
  • Painted black

Sub-type variations (Chief):

  • Figures for prominent leaders sometimes seated
  • When sat, figure usually positioned on concave seat (representing state seat of governance)
  • Figure wears a metal hat (bulalè-kèlè - mark of high status)
  • Some figures depicted carrying a cane
  • Usually has a bearded face

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