The akua'ba is often described as a fertility figure because it is used to induce pregnancy, ensure safe delivery, and a beautiful, healthy infant. It is blessed by the fertility deity in rites conducted by a priest. However, the akua'ba may best be described as a maternity figure because the woman wishing to conceive carries it and treats it like a real child. She adorns it with beads and earrings, "nurses" it, and puts it to bed, and uses it to teach daughters child care.

The Asante is a matrilineal society, so akua'maa (sing. akua'ba ) are usually depicted as female. The family line is passed on from mother to daughter. Because of the high infant mortality rate, the Asante use the akua'ba to ensure the continuation of the family lineage.

The akua'ba illustrates the Asante concepts of beauty such as a high oval forehead (produced by stroking the soft forehead of the infant), small mouth, and ringed creases representing fat rolls on the neck which indicate good health. Many older akua'ba do not have naturalistic arms and legs; its inclusion in later akua'ba may be an influence of modern Western art.

Akua'maa are often found in what older texts called Asante fetish houses. They are found in the shrine room which often housed carved figures, objects, and pottery.

Images: top left and top right: Bayly Art Museum; bottom left: Fowler Museum

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