By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Ghana; Akan artist

Commemorative head


H. 18.3 cm (7 3/16")

National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 86-12-4

A related tradition among Akan peoples involves the use of terracotta human figures and heads. Both the abusuwa kuruwa and these figurative sculptures are memorials to the dead and have equally long histories, but the abusuwa kuruwa were used by ordinary people, while the figurative examples were the prerogative of royals. Ross reports that memorial sculptures “were created by female artists to honor deceased chiefs and other important elders, both male and female... surviving members of the chief’s entourage, or family members of the deceased were also represented. The ensemble was not typically positioned on the grave, but rather at a sacred grove close to the cemetery where rituals were performed with libations and offerings of food and prayers” (Ross 1996: 132).