African art > African statues : tribal fetish, maternity > Yoruba twins
Pair of Ibeji Yoruba statuettes (N° 20004)
The Ibeji, surrogate images in African art .
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Traditionally carved from iroko, whose roots and leaves are also used for ritual purposes, these "ere" (statues) figures of twins take the form of a cube topped by a head. The pieces are linked by cowrie shell chains, constituting, in the same way as metal and pearls, the "abiku", protective ornaments.
In the language of the Yoruba people, ibeji means twin: ibi for born and eji for two. They represent the figure of a deceased twin.
This ibedji is then treated as the missing child would have been. It is the mother who must take care of him; she can wash and feed him regularly. If she dies, it is the remaining twin who takes over.
Sometimes a man would also have ibeji carved for his wife to induce pregnancy.
Supporting the soul of the twin, the ibeji influences the life of the family, becoming a source of benefit to his parents, who continue to offer prayers and worship and libations to him.
The occurrence of twins is, among the Yoruba, stronger than anywhere else in Black Africa. This particularity has therefore naturally influenced and integrated their statuary.
A detailed comparative study of the various regional styles has been made by Fausto Polo and Jean David in the book Catalogue of the Ibeji.
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