Cultural EXPRESSIONS

THE AKUABA DOLL

After days had stretched to months and finally a couple of years had zoomed by, Akua’s mother dragged her to the local medicine man. By this time, all of Akua’s peers had babies straddled on their backs with some sporting large bellies, indicating that their ‘manu’ or second child was on the way.

On arriving at the shrine, Akua fully expected a boatload of medicinal herbs and a barrage of instructions concerning their use. Her barrenness was, after all, unheard of in her clan and considered a disease. She was thus surprised when the medicine man after listening to her mother’s wails of misfortune, smiled and handed her a wooden, hand-crafted object. It was in a human form. The fetish priest said its flat disk-like head is a strongly exaggerated conception of the Akan ideal of beauty. Round or oval-shaped heads were considered ideal. As he talked, Akua now realized why her friends gently molded the soft cranial bones of their newborns with a warm cloth. The figure had a ringed neck, a convention for rolls of fat, a sign of beauty and prosperity. The medicine man said the small scars on the doll’s face were for medicinal purposes to prevent convulsions in her future progeny. It had horizontal arms and a cylindrical torso, ending in a base rather than legs. He said its structure would make it easy for her to carry.

doll2

His instructions were simple; Akua was to care for it, as though it were alive. And thus, Akua’s life as a mother began.

Every day, her routine resembled that of a newly nursing mother. She would tenderly carry the doll at her back as she went about her chores. She fed it, bathed it, sang to it and rocked it to sleep as she would have done to its living counterpart. Soon, it was even affectionately named, Akuaba, meaning Akua’s child by all her friends who saw how dexterous she was in caring for her imaginary child. In less than a year, the doll was replaced by a breathing and living bundle of joy. Anyone who saw Akua’s beautiful daughter agreed that she deserved her good fortune.

And so the legend and tradition of the Akuaba doll or fertility doll came to stay. If an Akan woman was having fertility problems, she was encouraged to visit a local shrine with a senior female family member where she would be given this doll to care for in expectation of her own offspring.

The modern psychological explanation for this aspect of little known Ghanaian culture is, caring for the doll released the right hormones which made it conducive for pregnancy to occur as the woman’s stress levels are significantly reduced.

Author: Ann-Marie Zwennes, #360WritersChallenge Participant

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