Twin Figure (ibeji)

20th C.

Wood Beads

Private Collection



        The Yoruba of Nigeria are well known for their ibeji twin figure sculptures. With the world's highest birthrate of twins, the Yoruba believe that twins have superhuman powers and share a common soul -- whether living or dead.Because they wish to reunite with their twin in the spirit world, dead twins have the power to cause bad luck, sickness or even death to the living twin and family. However, they also have the power to bring good fortune by interceding with the great spirits on behalf of the family. When a Yoruba twin dies, a common occurrence due to poverty and malnutrition, the family commissions an Ibeji figure with instructions from a diviner, to appease the dead twin.


        The Ibeji sculpture has both infant and adult characteristics, such as scarification, and elaborate hairdo, representing an entire lifetime. They are sometimes adorned with beads and polished with red camwood powder, or highlights of indigo blue paint. A patina results from the frequent handling, since the family would oil, wash, dress and feed the statuettes in order to placate the spirit.The powers of the ibeji can be seen in the large head and eyes, where the Yoruba believe spiritual power resides.Yoruba call this power ashe.


        The human like body decoration and treatment of the surface adds to the ibejiís power through its aesthetics.The markings on the face of the ibeji mirror traditional Yoruba scarification, which indicate family lineage.Its function on the ibeji is to do the same, while adding extra power to the head.The hairdo on this Ibeji is called agogo; it is used to emphasize the spiritual power in its head.This hairstyle was traditionally used to indicate that a woman was married, showing her status in society. The colorful beads worn around the ibejiís waist refer to orisha, the pantheon of gods in traditional Yoruba worship. Every color refers to a different god or spirit.Beads are worn by the Ibeji and Yoruba people for added power and protection.


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