Barakat Gallery
Login | Register | User Services | Search | Newsletter Sign-up
Barakat Gallery
HOME : African & Tribal Art : Yoruba Ibeji Dolls : Yoruba Wooden Ibeji Doll with Cowrie Shell Cloak
Click to view original image.
Yoruba Wooden Ibeji Doll with Cowrie Shell Cloak - PF.4997 (LSO)
Origin: Southwestern Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11" (27.9cm) high x 4.25" (10.8cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Beads

Location: United States
Currency Converter
Place On Hold
Ask a Question
Email to a Friend
Previous Item
Next Item
Photo Gallery
Click photo to change image.
Print image
Click photo to change image.
Print image
Click photo to change image.
Print image
Click photo to change image.
Print image
Click photo to change image.
Print image
This archaic-looking figure represents one of Africa’s most enduring and charming sculptural traditions. It was carved by a diviner of the Yoruba group, at the request of a woman who had lost one of her twins. In fear of losing the other to malevolent spirits, she would commission this piece to fool them into believing that the dead twin was still alive, and that their divided spirit need not be taken away. This particular piece is very much in the traditional mould, demonstrating highly emphasized female characteristics (they were always made to match the sex of the dead child) and an elongated format. The face is very austere, with classic semi-circular eyes, an inverted “T” nose and parted, parallel lips. The crested coiffure is detailed for the 1/3 nearest to the head and is plain thereafter; it is stained blue from the application of Reckitts blue – a laundry dye product that was used for this purpose during the colonial period (previously plant dyes were used). The face bears the triple scars that denote Yoruba artworks. The hands are elongated, and are attached to the body at the hip. The trunk and limbs are elongated and columnar; their lack of detail focuses attention upon the head and also upon the rest of the figures’ graceful use of line. In rear view the construction is greatly simplified, with very protuberant buttocks and a clearer view of the figures’ clenched fists. The figure is standing on an integral round base; the contact point between the figure and the base is almost obscured by the deposition of numerous libations that have also accumulated in all the concave sections of the sculpture. The figure has been adorned with a two bead necklaces (one blue and one white and blue), an amber- coloured beaded waistband and a bracelet of amber/green beads.

The Yoruba peoples of Nigeria have what is probably the longest extant artistic tradition in Africa. The nation state is comprised of numerous subsections that were joined historically by the rise and collapse of the Ife (12th to 15th centuries) and Benin (13th to 19th centuries) polities. Each of the sub-kingdoms – including Oyo, Ijebu and smaller units towards the west – had their heyday, and are loosely united through language and culture, although they still retain a measure of independence in terms of their artistic traditions. It is extremely hard to summarise the nature of Yoruba society given the large area they cover and the inevitable variability of their customs.

The Yoruba – being a large, complex society – is sedentary, agriculturist and hierarchical. They are ruled by hereditary kings known as Obas, and their access to the supernatural world is supervised by a very complex arrangement of priests (i.e. Olowa) and spiritual intermediaries. Their cosmology is arranged in terms of the tangible realm of the living (aye) and the invisible realm of the spirits and the hereafter (orun). Their relationship is sometimes described as being that of a gourd with tightly-interlocking upper and lower halves, or as a divination board with a raised rim and a depressed centre. The creator of the world is Olodumare (or Odumare, Olorun, Eleda or Eleemi, depending on the area), who is the source of all ase – life force. Orun is populated by all manner of spirits (iwin, ajogun, egbe and oro), gods (orisa) and ancestors (ara orun), all of whom influence the living. They can all be reached, appealed to or appeased through human intermediaries such as the babalawo (diviner). Most Yoruban artistic heritage is designed to thwart evil spirits, and to placate or honour those that bring good fortune to the populace.

Yoruba populations have the world’s highest prevalence of twinning (45/1000 live births – compared to 8/1000 in the US), and this fact has been woven into their mythology, culture and art. In Yoruba culture, twins are promulgated by Shango, who is also the god of Thunder. Twins are thus regarded as auspicious – fertility is, after all, a major factor in determining the viability of any population. However, the mortality rate of twins is very high (approximately 50%), and magico-religious measures have been taken to avert this misfortune. According to Yoruba convention, every person has a spirit or soul, which is shared between a pair of twins. If one should die, the babalawo (diviner) will carve a wooden figure of the same sex as the deceased child, which the parents must take care of as if it were alive. This figure is known as an ere ibeji. The protector of twins – a spirit (orisha) named Ibeji – will then safeguard the remaining child until adulthood. Until this point, the mother must wash, dress, feed and anoint the wooden figure. The appearance of the figures depends entirely upon the skill of the carver, as only the sex of the individual is specifically determined. The specific social history of the area, and its contacts with other areas or cultures, does determine the final appearance of the figures. For example, the hair of some individuals is rubbed with indigo dye, and the bodies with red camwood powder, while tribe-specific scarifications enable one to determine the origin of the figure within the Yoruba polity. Equally, most ibeji are naked, but socially elevated families often wish to manifest their wealth through dressing the figure in ornate clothing or jewellery.

The current piece evidently commemorates the dead girl of a prosperous family. As well as being well-carved, the piece has had attention lavished upon it in the form of baths, libations and much more, and has even been dressed in finery, all to avoid the demise of her twin. This is a beautiful yet poignant piece of African art. - (PF.4997 (LSO))


Home About Us Help Contact Us Services Publications Search
Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Security

Copyright (c) 2000-2023 by Barakat, Inc. All Rights Reserved - TEL 310.859.8408 - FAX 310.276.1346

coldfusion hosting