Berz Gallery of African Art

Like Family You Want to Keep Around: Ibeji Pair with Sweet Disposition, Rare Stature

Yoruba Tribe, Nigeria

Composition: wood, camwood/pigment, stain, encrustation, cowrie shells, fiber Age: early 20th century Dimensions: 5" (12.7 cm) x 2 1/4" (5.71 cm) x 1 1/2" (3.81 cm) ; 5" (12.7 cm) x 2 1/4" (5.71 cm) x 1 1/2" (3.81 cm) ; Provenance on request Vetted as authentic by a committee of tribal art experts and exhibited at the San Francisco Tribal Arts Show, 2017 Each purchase comes with complete dossier/certificate of authenticity and custom made bases are included This wonderful pair of Ibeji twins, at 5" tall, are of a rare group of smaller-sized twin figures of very, very high quality. The faces and bodies are smoothed over from years of repeated rubbing and washing by the owner, with glass beads adorning neck and waist, traces of camwood and good signs of age. To find a lovely antique pair that both wear high sandals is also a special treat. About Ibeji Twin figures: For the Yoruba, a mother of twins is indeed doubly blessed. With the birth of her twins, comes the family’s ability to attain a better life through the aid of these special children who are considered close to the gods. As is often the case in Africa, and in life, good fortune can turn to disaster if it is not handled properly. The Yoruba believe that special ceremonies must be performed, praise songs sung and special foods be served to twins so that they can maintain their favor with the Gods and hence that of their family. The Yoruba people are widely known as having the highest naturally occurring rates of twinning in the world. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for twins is also high. If the birth of twins is cause for great celebration, the passing of a twin is cause for great mourning. If one or both of a pair of twins dies, the family will consult a diviner (babalowo) who may say that a small wooden figure must be carved to contain the spirit of the lost child. The figure resembles what the child might have looked like in the prime of life—had the full promise of its birth been realized. Cathartically, the grieving Yoruba mother traditionally cares for the carved ibeji figure as she would have cared for her real child—it is carried home tied in its mother’s wrapper as she sings and dances to praise it. When home, it is caressed, offered food, anointed with oils and spends the night on a mat in its mother’s bedroom, wrapped in a cloth to keep it warm. To see an ibeji figure with features that have been nearly rubbed away to a rich patina is to witness the constant caress of a loving mother whose love could not be diminished, even in death. The photograph depicts a Yoruba mother holding two of her ibeji figures, and is © Deborah Stokes (taken from Pemberton III, Picton, Fakeye, Chemeche, “Ibeji: The Cult of Yoruba Twins”). Other references: Museum for African Art, “Doubly Blessed: The Ibeji Twins of Nigeria”; Polo, “Encyclopedia of the Ibeji”; Visona, “A History of Art In Africa”). The other photo inset, left, is @ Fagg, W. “Cult of Yoruba Twins.