TERA Gallery - African Art and Antiquities

"Altering The Way You View The World Of Art"
Yoruba Ibeji  (Ere ibeji - from ‘ibi’ = born and ‘eji’ = two; 'ere' means sacred image)

Ibejis are wooden figures carved to house the spirit of a departed twin.

The Yoruba of Nigeria and of the Benin Republic are known for having an
extraordinarily high rate of multiple births. 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 high mortality rate; half of the twins die shortly after birth.  The cultural
grieving process is well documented and may be observed in the carvings of Ibejis,
wooden figures carved to house the spirit of a departed twin.

Because the spirits of twins are believed to become deities (orisha), mothers and
female family members of subsequent generations care for the ibeji as if they were a
live child -- feeding, bathing, dressing and adorning them, often daily.  It is kept
standing during the day, and is laid down at night.  The headdress will be constantly
rubbed with sacramental Indigo oil, the body will be rubbed with red wood powder,
sung to a nd prayed to. . And as a sign of dignity (in wealthy families), some Ibedji get
pearl cloaks

Often the Ibeji will be dressed in the same clothing as the living twin, or be decorated
in a beaded vest,  a beaded cap,  or shown with raised sandals, indicating possible
royal connections.

The Ibeji cap in this collection is extremely rare. Because of their size, these caps are
often not maintained.  The ibeji vest in this collection is extremely rare because it is
made for two, i.e., the death a set of twins.