About this artwork
The Yoruba have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world, but with this comes the increased frequency of infant mortality. Throughout the Yoruba area that used to belong to the Oyo Empire, twins are called emi alagbara (powerful spirits), carriers of riches to their parents and misfortune for those who fail to honor them.
The cult of twins is the result of a radical transformation in attitudes relating to twin births sometime around the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Scholars are uncertain what event may have motivated such a reversal from the perception of twins as evil or terrifying to their reception as kings and gods, or orisa. The death of a twin will often prompt the parents to consult an Ifa divination priest and commission a sculptor to carve an ere ibeji. The sculptor has almost complete aesthetic control over the final features and form of the work. Although the sculptures represent a deceased infant, they are carved with the features of an adult. Once the sculpture is completed, it is taken care of as if it were a child.
This ere ibeji represents a male, although its twin figure is female [see 1978.863]. The figure wears red beads around its neck and has a wedge-shaped head and elaborate coiffure. The large almond-shaped eyes, naturalistic ears, broad nose, and full lips with a composed or serene expression are typical for ibeji carvings. The figure has long arms, which hang vertically from its shoulders, almost reaching the ankles on its comparatively short legs. It stands symmetrically on a square base.
–Permanent Collection Object Description
Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Twin Commemorative Figure (Ere Ibeji)
- Wood, glass beads, pigment, and string
- H. 24 cm (9 7/16 in.)
- Gift of Wilbur Tuggle