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6 / Death

Twin Figures (Ère Ìbejì)
Twin Figures (Ère Ìbejì)
Artist / Origin Yoruba artist, Nigeria
Region: Africa
Date Early 20th century
Material Wood
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: approx. 10 in. (25.4 cm.) (each)
Location National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria
Credit Photo Courtesy of Marilyn Houlberg

expert perspective

Babatunde LawalProfessor of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University

Twin Figures (Ère Ìbejì)

» Yoruba artist, Nigeria

expert perspective

Babatunde Lawal Babatunde Lawal Professor of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University

In the past, the Yoruba believed that every individual has a spirit partner in heaven. And that before an individual was born he or she would have to negotiate with the spirit partner—that you promise to do certain things to succeed in life. Now, in the case of twins, the Yoruba believed that the bond between the two before birth was so close that one could not live without the other. As a result the two of them were born together. And the Yoruba have one of the highest twin births in the world; about forty-five in every 1,000. Now if one of the twins should die, the belief is that the other might follow unless certain measures are taken. As a result ère ìbejì, twin memorials, will be created into which the soul of the deceased will be invoked. And then the statuettes called ère ìbejì is given to the child, the surviving twin to play with until he or she comes of age, when a memorial may be kept on an altar in remembrance of the deceased. If the second twin should die, you create another memorial in their memory, and then the mother of the twin keeps both. And it is believed that the spirits of these twins will continue to bless their appearance.

Even though many of the twins died in infancy, the artists have been trained to make the statuette of the memorial look like mature adults—a kind of idealization—to emphasize that they live on in the hereafter, and are now more powerful than when embodied as humans. So that through this way the art again mediates life. And it is believed that twins may return to the same mother in various forms.” 

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