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Female Twin Figure

Accession Number
2017/1.665

Title
Female Twin Figure

Artist(s)
Yoruba

Artist Nationality
Yoruba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
late 20th century

Medium & Support
beads, metal, string and wood

Dimensions
11 7/16 in x 3 9/16 in x 3 ⅜ in (29 cm x 9 cm x 8.5 cm);9/16 in x 3 15/16 in x 3 ¾ in (1.5 cm x 10 cm x 9.5 cm)

Credit Line
Gift and partial purchase from the estate of Kurt Delbanco in honor of Nicholas Delbanco

Subject matter
Up until the 1980s, Ere ibeji were small figures used by Yoruba peoples in the worship of twins. This practice has largely been replaced by portraits and plastic dolls. 
 
Twins are thought to be two bodies sharing one soul, so to placate as well as embody the spirit (emi), a figure (ere) would be carved to represent the deceased twin (ibeji). Yoruba peoples have the highest rate of twins per birth in the world, and in the past, high infant mortality meant many twin figures were carved. The ere ibeji was treated as a living person, regularly fed, washed, clothed, and carried. As a center of this ritual activity, these twin figures transformed from a memorial to an embodiment of the deceased twin that allowed them to be present to the living.
 
In addition to housing the spirit of a deceased twin, ere ibeji also represented the Yoruba ideal of good character. Part of what constitutes good character is a sense of composure or ‘coolness’, called itutu. Many aspects of ere ibeji embody this sense of ‘coolness:’ The calm face with serious, sealed lips and a poised stance with hands at the sides is a position of spiritual alertness that reflects ‘coolness’ and thus, good character. After being carved, the head of the twin figure would be rubbed with an indigo dyed cloth and some hairstyles/headgear were painted with blue pigment, as blue is the color of ‘coolness’.
 
Twins are also associated with Shango, the Yoruba orisa (or god) of thunder, and the protector of ibeji, as twins are called “children of thunder.” Some aspects of ere ibeji reference Shango, such as the rubbing of the twin figure with red camwood powder, as Shango is associated with the color red, and plaited hairstyles, as Shango is often depicted with plaited hair. The beads around the neck and waist of this ere ibeji may represent various orisas (gods) or ancestors worshipped by the family, whose lineage or place of origin may be referenced in the facial marks of the figure.
 
References:
Drewal, Henry, Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, 1989
Doris, David, Yoruba Images and Aesthetics, 2004
Micheli, Angelo, Doubles and Twins in African Arts, Spring 2008
Nicklin, Keith, Yoruba: A Celebration of African Art, 1991
Thompson, Robert Farris, Flash of the Spirit, 1983

Physical Description
Standing female figure on a round base mounted on another square base. There are metal rings around the ankles. The hands are placed at the sides and there are strings of beads around the waist and neck. There are three vertical grooves in the forehead and on each cheek there are three vertical and three horizontal grooves. The hair is in a conical shape with a small knob at the top, decorated with vertical grooves. 

Primary Object Classification
Sculpture

Primary Object Type
figure

Collection Area
African

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
children (people by age group)
commemorative sculpture
personal shrines
souls

& Author Notes

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