Female Twin Figure

Accession Number

Female Twin Figure


Artist Nationality
Yoruba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
20th century

Medium & Support
metal, beads, string, leather and camwood powder

11 7/16 in x 3 9/16 in x 3 9/16 in (29 cm x 9 cm x 9 cm);9/16 in x 4 ⅛ in x 4 ⅛ in (1.5 cm x 10.5 cm x 10.5 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 This practice has largely been replaced by portraits and plastic dolls.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.
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 with hands at the sides. There are metal bracelets around each wrist and a string of beads around the neck. On each breast there are two vertical marks. Each cheek is marked with three vertical and three horizontal grooves and there are three vertical marks on the forehead. The hair is in a conical shape decorated with vertical grooves and topped by a small knob. The heavy patina may possibly be camwood powder. 

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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children (people by age group)
commemorative sculpture
personal shrines

1 Related Resource

Treatment and Healing
(Part of: History of Medicine - American Association of Historians of Medicine (AAHM))

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