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Unknown Maker
Female Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji) with Cowrie Vest Female Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji) with Cowrie Vest
20th century 20th century

With one of the highest rates of twin births in the world, the Yoruba people enact a unique ritual when infant mortality strikes. Parents commission ere ibeji (a sacred image of a twin) to be carved, and then care for it as for a living child. It is believed that such practice appeases the unpredictable spirit of the departed twin. The Lang collection holds several examples of ere ibeji.

The male ere ibeji shown here (M84-274) is wearing a hat called a kufi, the traditional hat worn with formal African attire. It is derived from Islamic models and may suggest that the twin was born into a Muslim household. Annual ceremonies to honour ere ibeji mesh easily with the dominant religions of Africa today. In Muslim households, ere ibeji are honoured during Eid ul Adha, the festival commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. In Christian families, Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus, is also a time to honour ere ibeji.

A coat of cowrie shells, once used as currency in parts of West Africa, adorns the female twin figure (M84-256). The presence of so many cowries sewn into a gown indicates that the owner of this figure was wealthy. It also may signify the good fortune that twins (ibeji) bring to their families.

 
Unknown Maker
Yoruba peoples; (Adigbologe's Compound, Abeokuta, Ogun State) Yoruba peoples; (Adigbologe's Compound, Abeokuta, Ogun State)
Female Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji) with Cowrie Vest Female Twin Figure (Ere Ibeji) with Cowrie Vest
20th century 20th century
wood, cowries, cloth, beads, pigment wood, cowries, cloth, beads, pigment
height / width / depth: 25.50 x 7.20 x 8.10 cm; 10.04 x 2.83 x 3.19 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-256

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