Newborn/Infancy

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

NigeriaYoruba peoples (Egba, Abeokuta)

Ere Ibeji (twin figures)

Wood, beads

H. 20 cm (8")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.488

On a continent where infant mortality rates are high, much art is created to deal with maternal and child health.  When a woman has experienced frequent miscarriages, a figure that represents the spirits of ancestors who have been reborn as infants may be carved to encourage the spirits of those infants to "stay behind" in the world of the living and not to return to the spirit world.  Like peoples throughout the world Africans have ambivalent feelings about twins, because twins are considered to be supernatural creatures that can bring misfortune to their families, or in the case of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, may bring prosperity.  Among the Mossi of Burkina Faso twins are called kinkirsi, the same name that is used to describe the malevolent red nature spirits that live in trees and afflict passers by with accidents and disease.  Figures may be carved to represent the spirits of infants who have died so that they will bring good fortune to their parents.