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 region 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 turn of the 19th century. Scholars are uncertain what event may have motivated this reversal from the perception of twins as evil or terrifying to their reception as kings and 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 male ibeji wears a cowrie shell gown and has an elaborate coiffure in the shape of a cock’s comb with cornrows on the sides of his head and a thick central fringe on top. The almond-shaped eyes, heavy lids, full mouth and nose, and scarification patterns on the cheeks reflect the tradition of incorporating adult features. Ibeji figures are typically lavished with gifts from the loving parents. The cowrie shell jacket that adorns this figure is both an offering and an expression of the financial good luck that a well-cared-for sculpture can bring to a family. The jacket also refers to Sango, the orisa or deity most closely associated with the health of twins. Sango priests wear similar leather and cowrie-covered garments. This sculpture has been attributed to the early 20th-century artist Akiodé, from the Èsùbíyí workshop, known for his delicate treatment of forms.
- Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Twin Commemorative Figure (Ibeji) with Cowrie Shirt, Twin figure (Ibeji) with cowrie shirt
- Nigeria (Object made in), Itoko (Object made in), Abeokuta (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)
- Wood, cowrie shells, and fiber
- 21.6 × 14 cm (8 1/2 × 5 1/2 in.)
- Gift of Deborah Stokes and Jeffrey Hammer