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Shrine/Altar Figure

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unknown Egbado
Yoruba Primary

Shrine/Altar Figure

Late 19th century - Early 20th century
Carved and incised wood

12 3/8 in. x 3 3/4 in. x 3 3/8 in. (31.5 cm x 9.5 cm x 8.5 cm)
Gift of Mace Neufeld and Helen Katz Neufeld, Class of 1953

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: 99.3.93
Other Number(s): 59 (138) (Neufeld Collection Number)
138 (Sotheby's Lot Number)
Geography: Africa, Nigeria, Southwestern Nigeria
Classification: Ceremonial and Performance Artifacts
Culture/Nationality: Egbado, Yoruba, NIgerian, West African, African
Collection: Neufeld Collection
Nigeria has the highest incidence of twin births of any country in the world. Among the Yoruba, twins are regarded as blessed spiritual beings who bring wealth to their families. When a twin passes away, the parents consult a babalawo (priest or diviner), who will advise the family to have an ere ibeji, or twin figure, carved to represent the gender of the deceased twin and become the residence of the twin’s spirit.

The mother of the deceased child will care for the ere ibeji just as she cares for the living twin. It will be washed, moisturized, clothed, and fed. It is believed that proper care of the ere ibeji ensures that the deceased twin will not lure the living twin to join it. When a parent can no longer care for the figure, it becomes the responsibility of the living twin. If an ere ibeji is left without a keeper, it is given to an iya’beji, a woman who cares for all abandoned twin figures.

Presently, it is growing less and less common to have an ere ibeji made. Instead, photos are sometimes used to represent a deceased twin.

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