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Commemorative Container (Abusua Kuruwa)

A work made of terracotta.

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  • A work made of terracotta.


Mid–/late 20th century


Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

This Kwahu container demonstrates a sophisticated balance of forms. The small, round vessel that serves as its base stands on three legs and is embellished with circular knobs and cowrie-shaped attachments. The gracefully rendered woman who crowns its lid, perhaps intended to represent the deceased, has the flat-headed from and cowrie-shaped eyes of Kwahu figural sculptures. She sits on a classic Akan-style stool, which underscores her noble status, and holds a small bowl in her hands.

Across the Akan-speaking region of what is today primarily Ghana, members of the royal elite were entitled to commission commemorative, funerary figures and vessels. These practices were already well established in the seventeenth century, when early European travelers took note of pottery containers and sculptures on gravesites; they have waned since the second half of the twentieth century. While women are makers of domestic pottery in the area, both sexes fashion commemorative containers called abusua kuruwa, or family pots. These are found in a variety of styles ranging from simple to complex, reflecting their wide distribution and long-standing importance. These variations are also due in part to the fact that a potter made only a few such vessels during his or her career.

An abusua kuruwa was displayed during second burial celebrations, when the family of the deceased ate together and offered food to their departed relative. Among the Kwahu the pot stood under a shelter constructed next to a ritual hearth where special food was prepared for the dead. Afterwards it was set, along with the cooking paraphernalia, on the deceased’s grave. Hair and nail parings from family members may have been placed into the vessel as a symbol of familial unity. Such pots are also seen on shrines, in royal stool rooms, and even in residential compounds, where they hold drinking water for the ranking elder, reflecting his or her close connection to the ancestors.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Commemorative Container (Abusua Kuruwa)


Ghana (Object made in)






35.9 × 16.8 cm (14 1/8 × 6 5/8 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Keith Achepohl

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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