Double Trouble


Ethnographia is a growing section of our saleroom with many recent past successes such as the Fijian War clubs in our 16th June 2015 sale:


A 19th Century Fijian mace-headed hardwood root war club, the handle bound with natural fibres, the lower part with chip carving - Sold for £4200

And our 12th February 2013 sale:


A late 19th/early 20th Century African knobkerrie, the handle and head with carved "Buttons", the lower part of the handle with incised decoration -Sold for £4500.

In our upcoming 13th October 2015 auction, however, we have some ethnographia with a fascinating background. The Yoruba tribe are primarily based in Nigeria and have one of the highest twin birth rates in the world with approximately 45 in every 1000 births resulting in twins. Within this tribe a mother of twins is considered doubly blessed as these special children are considered close to the gods. Although this is unusual in itself the most interesting cultural tradition is when a twin sadly dies. The Yoruba tribe believe that every person has a spirit counterpart and when he/she is born that counterpart is left behind in heaven. Therefore, when twins are born it is believed that the separation between human and spirit has not occurred as the bond is too strong – making twins sacred.


A Yoruba (Southern Nigeria) carved wood male figure (Ibeji) with elaborately dressed hair and wearing beads - Lot 699 - 13th October 2015

After the passing of a twin in Yoruba tribes an ère ìbejì is created to honour the deceased. These are wooden sculptures that are carved to symbolise the dead twin and are regarded as containers for the soul of the deceased. By creating this figure the members believe that this localises the dead twin’s spirit ensuring that it too does not go to its death. This invokes the soul of the deceased and as such is treated as if it was a living child. Family members wash, feed and clothe the ère ìbejì as they do for the surviving twin as well as performing rituals to restore the balance of the soul.


A Yoruba (Southern Nigeria) carved wood female figure (Ibeji) with traces of camwood powder and blue pigment, and another female figure with neck beads and metal arm and ankle bracelets - Lot 700 - 13th October 2015

Should the second twin be unlucky enough to die a second ère ìbejì is created. The mother then treats both figures as if they were still alive and will periodically organise a memorial feast. The hope is to bring the mother good fortune through these rituals and bring the children back to her through future births. During these rituals the mother may secure the ère ìbejì to her body and dance to honour them.

The ìbejì figures are not carved as an exact likeness of the child, but as a resemblance of how the child may have looked later in life. The figures are highly stylised and even if the twins were not identical, they tend to be carved to look the same to represent the strong bond between them.

For more information on these lots and other items in our October sale please take a look at our catalogue online now. Please also feel free to get in contact if you wish to have anymore information on ethnograpia.

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