By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

GhanaAkan artist

Memorial head


H. 25.8 cm (10 3/16")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.322

Upon the death of an adult, a mma was modeled, fired, and stained in preparation for the funeral.  The day before the final funeral rites, the mma was dressed and displayed for all the guests to see.  The spirit of the deceased was invited to occupy its mma, and then after the body was buried in a special clearing in the forest, called a mmasso, the mma was deposited on top of the grave.  The mmasso were visited annually during the yam harvest celebration, but they were avoided throughout the rest of the year, because the spiritual powers of the mma were feared (Soppelsa 1990: 78).  While the mma statuettes are both commemorative portraits and ancestral figures, they are not placed in a shrine in the village. Because they belong to the realm of the cemetery, the mma statuettes function to separate physically the soul of the deceased from the living.