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Two:; 1st half 20th c.; Male and female; Carved wood, cloth, cowries, beads; Largest 10 1/2" x 10" x 3"

Sale Price: $4,375

Estimate: $1,000 - $2,000


The Yoruba of Nigeria have the highest recorded rate of twin births in the world, with an estimated 45 sets of twins in every 1,000 births. The cult of twins is the result of a radical transformation in attitudes relating to twin births sometime around the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Scholars are uncertain what event may have motivated such a reversal from the perception of twins as evil or terrifying to their reception as kings and orisa. Whatever the reason, from this time, most of the Yoruba communities have welcomed twins, endowing them with special powers and the ability to bring good fortune to those who honor them properly. The death of a twin or a pair of twins will often prompt the parents to consult an Ifa divination priest and commission a sculptor to carve memorial figures like these, called ibeji. It has become the Western expectation to find twins figures in pairs, but more often than not, only one figure is carved because the other twin is still living. Ibeji figures are ritually cared for by parents or a surviving twin as if living: washed, dressed, and offered favorite foods. Their hairstyles are elaborate and often colored with dye (originally indigo, now more readily available pigments) symbolizing the calming of the spirit's inner being. They may also bear beaded jewelry to mark their honored status. Ibeji figures reflect the various styles of individual artists and regions.
Okediji, Moyo. "Art of the Yoruba", African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 23, 2, 1997, pp. 179-181 (