If a twin or both twins die then the mother will seek out a Babalawo, who will tell her to commission carvings of the twins. These carvings are known as Ere Ibeji and the mother will care for them as if they were her infants, proving her ability to the deceased twins so that they will return. Apart from facial markings, the figures bear no resemblance to the child. They portray the body full of life, and indeed these figures are more than mere woodcarvings – for the family, the child is present, living with them through the Ibeji figure.
Due to the importance of Ibeji, but also the high mortality rate, these figures are found in great numbers. This has allowed art historians to identify regional styles and individual artists. These Ere Ibeji figures were carved by Esubiyi of Ibara Orile in Abeokuta in about 1890.
In the process of developing the John Randle Centre, its curators have researched some fascinating stories associated with Yoruba culture. Read on for some examples.