Giving birth to a child is a singular rite of passage for a Ghanaian woman. The inability to conceive is cause for suspicion of poor health, even witchcraft. The traditional solution for the barren woman is the AKUA’ BA DOLL. More than a “doll” in the Western sense, an AKUA’ BA DOLL is a surrogate child, wrapped in cloth and carried on the back as one would carry a normal African baby; suckled and put to bed like a real child. An AKUA’ BA DOLL is a good luck charm, an attempt to lobby the fertility gods for a child.
According to legend, a barren woman named Akua went to a traditional priest for help. He instructed her to commission a small wooden child and carry it on her back, treating it as if it were a living child. This subjected her to ridicule in the village, and the term “Akua’ ba” (“child of Akua”) was born. In time, however, Akua conceived, giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. Of a sudden, carrying an AKUA’ BA DOLL became common practice, a symbol of hope for barren women. So prevalent did they become, in fact, that even pregnant women took to carrying them—to ensure a healthy child. The disc-shaped head and the neck depicting rolls of fat are ideals of Ashanti beauty. They once molded the shape of their newborns’ heads in such a way.