Kresge Art Museum
African Art: Western Eyes

Ere ibeji, female twins

Yoruba peoples, Nigeria
20th century
Yoruba peoples, Nigeria
Wood, beads, paint, metal
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Dean N. Glick, 99.4.1,2
Yoruba peoples of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. Twins, considered a great blessing to their family, are thought to have divine protection and extraordinary capabilities. Interestingly, twin births were once considered unacceptable in many Yoruba city-states, but historical evidence suggests that a reversal of attitude occurred during the 18th and 19th century. This change in social attitude also resulted in the practice among many Yoruba peoples of memorializing a deceased twin in the form of a sculptural figure. Hence, when a twin died the family sought the guidance of a priest, who often directed the parents to commission a commemorative carving representing the deceased child.

Ere ibeji, or twin figures, are not portraits; rather they embody aesthetic ideals that balance realism and abstraction in sculptural forms. Ere ibeji are sometimes passed down from one generation to the next in order to honor the spirit of the twin and are the focus of religious and family activities. Ere ibeji, like many African art objects, are transformed through their use in daily ceremonies and their physical appearance changes over time. The surfaces of the Kresge ere ibeji are worn down from the loving touch of their past owners and the continual rubbing of food offerings onto the figures. Jewelry and other forms of adornment, whose colors have a symbolic significance, are also added over the years at the discretion of individual family members who have been charged with the care of the ere ibeji.