Akuaba: a doll believed to influence fertility

BY: Lydia Ezit
Madam Kafui, a trader, cleaning some of her akuaba with a brush
Madam Kafui, a trader, cleaning some of her akuaba with a brush

For women who are struggling to have children of their own, carrying a fertility doll also known as “akuaba” could be a solution to getting pregnant.

This is a strongly held belief of wood carvers at the Aburi Craft Village in the Eastern Region, where wood is shaped into all kinds of design for both exterior and interior decorations.

These designs are showcased on roadsides and between houses at Aburi, aside a sales point at the craft village and other parts of the country where wood carving is a common vocation.

The wood carvers believe that backed by faith, carrying a fertility doll could help a woman conceive within two months.

In a chat with The Mirror at the craft village, the carvers were unanimous that although technology and medicine seemed to be changing some of those beliefs, the use of akuaba was still relevant to patrons who still had faith in the doll.

Akuaba

The akuaba is carved from wood and dyed mostly in black. They have a large round flat head with sketched lines representing eyebrows.

Beneath the eyebrows are small coffee bean eyes and the neck crafted in thick rings.

It shows a protruding breast which some carvers explained signifies a woman who has not yet borne and nursed children.

The extra body fat including its short arms, suggest that the young woman is full-figured and capable of bearing healthy children, the carvers said.

Origin

The carvers trace the origin and fertility potentials of the doll to their descendants engaged in wood carving some centuries ago.

According to some of the wood carvers at the craft village, a woman named Akua could not conceive, so she sought a spiritual reason from a divinity. Through a diviner’s instruction, Akua commissioned a carver to create for her a wooden child to treat as her human child.

Akua did as she was told and within a few months, she conceived, hence the name Akua' ba to wit Akua's child.

Djangmah family

The wood carving industry has been in existence for centuries and the skills for the vocation are passed on from generation to generation. The carvers at Aburi explained that their ancestors who left Ghana to Nigeria for greener pastures many years ago returned with wood carving skills.

One of such is the Djangmah family currently operating a doll shop on the left of the Aburi Y – junction, near the Aburi Girls Senior High School.

Spokesperson for the family, Ms Naki Djangmah, who has been in the doll trade for 30 years, said her family has been in the akuaba business for 50 years.

She described it as a family business, emphasising that akuaba originated from the akan people, specifically the Ashantis.

According to her, among the Ashantis, the doll was an important fertility aid to women who had difficulty in giving birth to keep in their room and care for it.

“With the akuaba all you need to do is tie it at your back with a cloth, cuddle it, offer it food and drinks through miming, just like you will do with your own real baby. If you believe in what you are doing, it will work for you. It still works. There are people who still use it,” she said.

Ms Djangmah said the doll was potent to the extent that after the user had conceived, the doll could be given as a gift to another female family member who needed it.

Twins

The Djangmah family spokesperson said the dolls were easy to use, with the exception of the ones which came in the form of twins. That, she said, required some rites to be performed before use.

She explained that the rites were performed to enable the “children come to stay” because there was the belief that the babies may come with the use of that doll but may die.

Ms Djangmah did not see any challenge in the production of the dolls because the skills were innate in her family and so making them was not difficult, adding that both the men and women in the trade could carve with ease.

“You can use a day to carve 10 pieces of the small sized ones although bigger ones can take about a week and the prices range from GH¢20 to GH¢500 depending on the size and quantity,” she explained.

Wedding

Ms Djangmah said the akuaba doll was in high demand, especially the ones fixed on traditional stools.

According to her, akuaba has become a key decorative item symbolising fertility at traditional weddings, hence brides at traditional weddings are made to sit on a doll stool throughout the ceremony.

“The stool has various designs but the frequent requests by customers for their traditional weddings are either Gye Nyame, Akuaba or Sankofa. Most families are very particular about these designs and some even buy it just for their homes. It costs only GH¢200”, Ms Djangmah said.

Patronise dolls

The Vice-President of the Aburi Craft Village, Mr Ras Atu Abbey, said it was better for women to patronise the akuaba than to seek childbirth elsewhere paying huge sums of money which might not yield results, when tradition only demands women to keep fertility dolls.

He said people had faith in using the dolls but unfortunately, this belief seems to be waning due to the influence of westernisation.

“We do not have to do away with our traditions and norms. This is why we are suffering. There is no laid down rules in using a fertility doll. Tie it at your back and by two months you will conceive,” he added.

“Our forefathers had knowledge and communicated with gods and so they know why they made the fertility doll. It is of no use roaming seeking childbirth; keep a fertility doll, backed by faith”.

Mr Abbey was not happy that the wood carving business had been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business was not booming like it did before the pandemic, he observed.