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Africa Direct

Yoruba Ibeji Male Nigeria African Art Miniature

AvailabilityIn stock
Special Price $110.00 Regular Price $165.00
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Title Yoruba Ibeji Male Nigeria African Art Miniature
Type of Object Ibeji twin figure
Country of Origin Nigeria 
People Yoruba
Materials Wood, pigments
Approximate Age Mid 20th Century
Height (in) 10
Width (in) 3.75
Depth (in) 3.5
Dimensions Height: 10 Inches
Width: 3.75 Inches
Overall Condition Poor. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.   Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.  We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.
Damage/Repair Cracks, scrapes and worn pigment. Repaired right hand to hip connection

Additional Information: 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.

In earlier times, new-born twins, or ibeji, as they are called, were believed to be evil, monstrous abnormalities and infanticide was a common practice. However, such beliefs and practices were later superseded and reversed, and by the middle of the 18th century twins came to be seen as a blessing; they were awarded the status of minor deities, called Orishas, and their arrival was viewed as an omen of good fortune for the family. By the 19th century the cult of the Ere Ibeji was firmly established and continues to this day. The death of one or both twins is regarded as a great calamity for the family, one which requires immediate appeasement of the soul of the deceased child.

Though the cause of the high rate of twin births among Yoruba women has not been established, the cultural grieving process is well documented and may be observed in the carving of a figure known as Ere Ibeji, which both represents the lost child and serves as a ritual point of contact with the soul of the deceased. The carving of the Ere Ibeji is commissioned under the guidance of an Ifa diviner, a Babalowo, whom the parents consult in selecting the particular artist who will do the work. The sculpture itself represents a deceased infant, but is carved with features and attributes of an adult. The sculptural features of genitalia, pubic hair, wide hips, developed breasts, gender specific facial scarification and mature coiffures exude an erotic sexuality, uncommon for infants. As Dr. Moyo Okediji notes, the completed ibeji figure is carved as an adult, rather than as the deceased infant, in a mythological form that depicts the concentrated calm of a Yoruba artist.

When the carving of the Ere Ibeji is completed, the artist is given a feast and payment as determined by the Orishas. Once the figure is brought to the family dwelling, it is placed on a shrine dedicated to Elegba with the hope that the Orisha or soul, which was split in two parts when the twins were born, will now again reside in the figure that represents the dead twin. The sculpted figure is treated and cared for as if it were alive. It is rubbed in sacramental oil, washed, fed, clothed, sung to and prayed to. It is kept standing during the day, and is laid down at night. Often it will be dressed in the same clothing as the living twin, or be decorated in a beaded vest or shown with raised sandals, indicating possible royal connections. The responsibility of caring for the ibeji is borne by the mother and female family members of subsequent generations. The sculpture is expected to avert evil from the household, strengthen the manifestations of family love, stare down death, illuminate the pathway through the valley of immortality, and bring good fortune to all who treat it with respect and offer it tokens of affection. Conversely, bad fortune and curses may be engendered if the ibeji is ignored.

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