Twin Memorial Figure (Ere Ibeji)

Nigeria, Odo Owa, Bamgboye School. Late 19th to- early 20th centuries
Wood, beads
1994.4.794
Ex coll. William S. Arnett

The Yoruba people of Nigeria believe that twins are semi-divine and possess special powers. If a twins dies, the parents consult a diviner who may decide that an ere ibeji should be carved as a substitute for the deceased child, though nowadays dual-image photographs often replace carvings.

These twin effigies are placed on a family altar, and are bathed, fed, taken to the market place, dressed, played with, just as a living child would be. These actions are intended to please the soul of the deceased twin so that he or she will bring good fortune to the family. Though associated with individual deceased children, ere ibeji are not portraits and ibeji are shown as physically mature adults in the hopes that the child’s spirit will return in another life and grow to adulthood. The ibeji is carved and adorned specifically to insure the longevity of the reborn spirit’s next life on earth.

One of the most important adornments of some ibeji, the triangular pendants on the chest and back represent leather amulets (tirah) that hold quotations from the Islamic holy book, the Koran. Tirah are thought to protect the figure from ill fate, whether the family owning the ibeji is a follower of Islam or not.