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Lot 99B: Fine Old African Wooden Ibeji Pair
27 October 2016
Louisville, CO, USALive Auction
West Africa, Yoruba culture, Ibeji, ca. early 20th century CE. Showing graceful signs of aging, this pair of deceased male and female twin figures, known as Ibeji, most likely come from Osogbo or the Igbomina region of Yoruba land. The Yoruba have one of the highest number of twin births in the world, four times higher than in Europe, for example. Ibeji are known to the Yoruba as two people who share one soul. If one of the human twins dies, whether as a child or an adult, the surviving human twin is considered to have little hope of living with only half a soul. Further, the deceased's soul must have a place to reside. Wooden figures, like this pair, keep the souls of the twins together. When a matched pair of twins is made, it is an indication that both human twins have died. This pair shows smooth, worn, and darkened surfaces which convey the devotion and respect to the Ibeji spirit. "Ultimately, the surface of an Ibeji measures the object's spiritual value to the caregiver. The response of the Yoruba mothers and caregivers is primarily personal and spiritual, not aesthetic. Even an Ibeji carved by a mediocre artisan can develop a surface reflecting great efficacy to the believer. The wood is worked, fed, oiled, and clothed not so much to fulfill an aesthetic ideal but to fulfill a human need " ('Ibeji Surface Analysis' by Charles Bordogna, in 'Surfaces' ed. Kahan, Page, Imperato, 2009 by Indiana Univ. Press.) Examples like these signify the fact that the Yoruba have traditionally had a high rate of multiple births and have always valued twins as special. When a twin dies, a figure dedicated to Ibeji, the deity of twins, is carved to be the earthly abode of the spirit of that twin. The figure is then nurtured by the mother and/or the surviving twin. In this case, we have a matching male/female pair of twins. Take note of the painstaking attention to details, from their elaborately carved coiffures to the tiny perforations at the pupils for metal inserts to the scarification marks on their faces and bodies (note the extensive incised marks on the male's abdominal region and arms), not to mention the stunning Yoruba glass and shell beadwork adorning the male figure's neck and waist of stunning cobalt blue, russet red, and white hues, the female's waist (in black), and the large metal rings adorning the male's wrists. Beads and ornaments were a sign of status and wealth among the Yoruba. This is a stupendous pair! Size: female figure measures 10.5" H (26.7 cm)
Provenance: Ex - Frerck collection acquired in the 1980's
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Condition Report: Age cracks as shown. Stunning patina! Overall very good.