Berz Gallery of African Art

Wonderful Pair of Ibejis with Great Expression and Strong Presence

Yoruba Tribe, Nigeria

wood, stain, camwood/pigment remains, "Rickett's Blue" solvent (blue coloration of coiffure), glass beads, fiber early 20th century Ex. Galerie Frank van Craen, Belgium, Ex. Private European Collection 10" (h) / 25.4 cm This is a wonderful pair of Ibeji twins, at approx 10" tall; the faces and bodies are smoothed over from years of repeated rubbing and washing by the owner, with glass beads adorning the waists and ankles; with traces of camwood and good signs of age. 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.