THE POUPÈE ASHANTI
In all African cultures, the doll has a deep and special meaning, which follows the traditions of the tribe to which it belongs.
The social function of these objects is fundamental and well defined, although it may have different shades from tribe to tribe: female fertility is the basis of African society and is a concept that goes beyond the idea of family. It symbolizes the survival and continuity of the community, therefore in Africa can be found countless fertility cults.
Ashanti dolls, also known as Akwaba or Akuaba, are the most important artifacts that traditionally protect female fertility and favour pregnancy: in the Ashanti tribe, one of the main ethnic groups in Ghana and part of the Akan group, women are the final arbiter of every decision and every choice, therefore it is essential to protect their fertility and pregnancy.
The importance of motherhood is the basis of this culture: women’s social postion within the tribe often depends on the number of pregnancies that they managed to accomplish, on the ability to ensure a descent to their husband.
Ashanti dolls, born as ritual and religious objects, have the important role of protecting pregnancy; often in carved polished wood, they represent the stylized form of a woman, whose features are always the same: the head is a large flat disc with a high forehead, a flat nose and a small mouth. The head is held up on a long, thin neck, decorated by a series of rings. Body, neck and arms form the shape of a cross, and the base is circular, which allows the dolls to stand without support.
Small details can differ between one and the other, sometimes small breasts are present, sometimes they are absent; their abdomen can be more or less protruding.
Ashanti dolls are worn by women to favour their pregnancy and to ensure the health and beauty of the unborn child: important features are a beautiful head and a long neck; they can be worn as a pendant, or traditionally wrapped in clothes and worn on the back.
Their name comes from the Ashanti and Akan tradition: legend has it that a infertile woman named Akua, whose greatest desire was to have a child, consulted all tribe chiefs and sorcerers, but in vain; finally a priest told her to carve in wood the figure of a child, and to bear it along with her as if it was real.
Akua did what she was told, taking care of the wooden doll just as if it was her own son: she adorned it with pearls and bracelets, she always carried it with her, bathed it and cuddled it. The rest of the tribe thought she maddened, and started to exclude her, teasing her and calling the wooden figurine “Akua’s child”.
Soon, however, Akua became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful and healthy little girl. Since then, Akan women followed her example and began wearing wooden dolls in order to fight infertility.
Ashanti dolls are still considered today among the most important fertility amulets of African culture: they are made in bronze or wood and decorated with coloured beads.
Beyond the importance of ensuring fertility, they are now considered a symbol of luck and prosperity.
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