Rites of Passage - Birth and Maternity

Culture: Akan (Ghana) Object: Akua'ba (pl. = Akua'mma) Culture: Fanti (Ghana) Culture: Bamana (Mali) Cult: Gwan -- Object: Gwandusu Culture: Yombe (Kongo Sub-group); Dem Rep. of Congo Culture: Bamileke (Cameroon Grasslands) Culture: Senufo (Cote d'Ivoire) Culture: Dogon (Mali)
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In British Museum. Amongst the various Akan groups, infertile women may be instructed to commission an Akua'ba to help them conceive and bear a healthy child. The wooden objects are always female, and depict stylized representations of ideal beauty: high foreheads, small facial features, and ringed necks. Because the Akan are matrilineal (they trace family descent through the female line, not the male), it is imperative for a woman to have at least one daughter. This is why these are always female images.
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The Fanti are an Akan group that live on the Atlantic coast of Ghana. Their Akua'ba (plural is actually akua'mma) differ in having elongated rectangular heads. They are used the same way, tucked into the back of a woman's wrapper and generally treated exactly like a real child.
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Gellar collection, 42" high. These monumental figures are the central image in the Gwan shrines in Bamana villages in Mali. Representing the primordial mother, from whom all Bamana are descended, they always depict a seated female figure, naked except for the distinctive hunter's cap, with a baby on her lap. Families that succeed in having a child after initiation into the Gwan cult will generally name the child after one of the sculptures kept in the shrine. These are brought out annually into the village for a festival that honors them.
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The Yombe are a Kongo subgroup in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was an ivory ornament for the top of a royal staff. You can tell she is a queen by the pineapple fiber cap, leopard tooth and cowrie shell necklace, and filed teeth. She would symbolize the continuity of the royal line, since she has borne the king a child. The red color of the ivory is the result of rubbing a mix of camwood dust and palm oil onto the surface.
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For the Bamileke and other kingdoms in the region known as the Cameroon Grassfields, succession of the royal line was imperative. The king had a limited amount of time after being enthroned to produce an heir (if he hadn't already). Once the heir was assured, carved wooden portraits of the king, queen, and heir were installed outside the palace, symbolizing the king's presence, and suggesting the future was secure.
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In Metropolitan Museum of Art, 28" high. Paired figures for the Dogon may refer to the first human twins, who in turn gave birth to three more sets of twins, forming the original 8 persons. Numerology is important for the Dogon, and 3 is the symbol of maleness, 4 for females. Note that with his hand on her shoulder, he has only three limbs down facing the viewer (his left arm, and his legs), while she has four (both arms and both legs). Otherwise, the figures are virtually identical in terms of size and detail. On the back, she has a baby on her back, he has a quiver for arrows (he is a hunter). The stool they sit upon has 4 (possibly 6) smaller figures as supports.
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