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Akan Terracotta Memorial Head Mma or Nsodie

Akan Terracotta Memorial Head Mma or Nsodie

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Akan peoples, 18th or 19th century, Hemang-Twifo region, Ghana, West Africa

Magnificent, aged and highly elegant terracotta head, attributed to the Hemang-Twifo region, and called mma or nsodie, among other names, is characterized by its serene and meditative expression, featuring beautiful oval-shaped face with broad forehead, elaborate coiffure, and symmetrical nose terminated by slightly flared nostrils. The line of the nose splits into the eyebrows that arch over shut, almond-shaped eyes. The thin-lipped mouth stretches in a small smile. Semi-circular ears extend on both sides of the face, while the carefully executed multi-teared coiffure signifies elite status. Terracotta memorial heads, such as this mesmerizing example, were made to serve a strictly funerary purpose and modeled only after individual’s death, both as a form of commemoration and an object into which the spirit of the deceased might be invoked. It has also been suggested that the quartz fragments in terracotta memorial heads such as this were intended to produce a kind of radiance comparable to that sought by royal individuals who on ceremonial occasions covered their bodies in shea butter containing shimmering gold dust. Among the Ashanti and related Akan peoples it was customary in the case of important deceased persons or individuals of high status to place portrait memorial heads in sacred area reserved for funerary objects within the cemetary (called asensie, also “place of the pots") outside of the village. Offerings of food, liquor, and water would be made at the asensie because Akan people believed that spirits honored in this way were spiritually capable of assisting living family members in times of crisis. In Akan culture, the practice of creating memorial heads appears to go back at least as far as the 17th century. The creating of memorial heads was the specialty of elderly women artists, challenged with the task of capturing the deceased’s approximate likeness in clay. 

Good condition. Intact. Expected chips, nicks, abrasions, and softening of detail, all commensurate with age and use. Lovely patina. Size approx. 13,7cm x 9,5cm x 6,9cm.

Provenance: Danish private collection.

For a similar example see:

Memorial Head (Nsodie), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 2015.790 (

References and further reading:

The Arts of Ghana, Herbert M. Cole & Doran H. Ross, Los Angeles: UCLA Museum of Cultural History, 1977.

Memorial Head (Akan peoples), Dr. Christa Clarke, in Smarthistory, October 9, 2016 (

Akan Terracotta Heads: Gods or Ancestors?, Michelle Gilbert, African Arts 22.4 (August 1989): 34–43, 85–86.

The Asante, Malcolm D. McLeod, London: British Museum Publications Ltd, 1981.

People Making Portraits Making People Living Icons of the Akan, George Nelson Preston, African Arts 23.3, Special Issue: Portraiture in Africa, Part I (July 1990), 70–76, 104.

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