Yoruba Ibeji Figure

Posted by Frank Eagar on 12/1/2016 to Sold Items

Tribe: Yoruba
Country: Nigeria
Material: Wood, Beads, Metal, Cloth.
Size: 11" (28 cm)
Provenance: Ex Private USA Collection

Multiple births occur with unusual frequency among the The Yoruba of Nigeria and of the Benin Republic. The rate of twin births is one of the highest in the world, 45 of every 1,000 births (in the United States it is 28.9 of every 1000). There is also a corresponding high mortality rate; half of the twins die shortly after birth. In earlier times, new-born twins, or ; Ìbejì as they are called, were believed to be abnormalities, even evil monstrosities, in Yoruba subcultures. However, such beliefs were later moderated and eventually reversed, and by the middle of the 18th century, having twins became blessed occurrences, and their arrival celebrated as an omen of good fortune for the family.

The first born twin, whether a boy or a girl, is always Taiwo, meaning ‘having the first taste of the world’, while the second twin is named Kehinde, meaning ‘arriving after the other’. Although being born first Taiwo is considered as the younger twin. The supposedly older, thus more authoritative Kehinde supposedly sends out the younger twin to get a taste of the outside world, Taiwo gives an 'all clear' signal by crying, after which Kehinde then follows.

Based upon the belief that twins are semi-divine and possess special powers, an Ìbejì child is regarded as powerful dead as it was alive, thus the cultural grieving process. Sculptural portrayal of deceased children in fully mature bodies, with large heads and intricate coiffures carved for the parents who lost at least one of their twins, is a common practice. If a twins dies, the parents consult a diviner who may decide that an ère ìbejì should be carved as a substitute for the deceased child. Though associated with individual deceased children, the miniature images are neither the deceased children’s portraits nor their memorial figures. Rather, they serve to embody the “living dead” and to perpetuate the life force, or àṣẹ, of the lost child, a ritual point of contact with the soul of the deceased. Ère ìbejì are shown as physically mature adults in the hopes that the child’s spirit will return in another life and grow to adulthood. Representations of living ìbejìs are not carved.

Yorubas traditionally regard ìbejìs as capable of bringing affluence to either or both of their parents or impoverishing them, according to how well the ìbejìs are treated. For that reason, the ère ìbejì is cared for in the same way every other family member is. Once the figure is brought to the family dwelling, it is placed on a shrine dedicated to Elegba with the hope that the soul, which was split in two parts when the twins were born, will now again reside in the figure that represents the dead twin. The face is washed after the feeding of beans and palm oil, the combo meal believed favorite food of twins; it is dressed in rich garments, tunics and cloaks adorned with beads and cowrie shells; and family members lay the wooden figure down (horizontally) for bed at night. If the ibeji figure is honored in these ways, the spirit of the deceased infant may bring its parents wealth and good luck.The twins' parents make sacrifices to the ibeji deity until the mother gives birth to another baby following the birth of the ibejis. This other child is known as Idowu, otherwise referred to as esu lehin ibeji, (trickster behind twins) because Idowus are perceived to be very difficult children.