The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The J. Richard Simon Collection of Yoruba Twin Figures

by Christopher D. Roy, editor (1947-2019)
University of Iowa

This Topic Essay consists of eight research papers written in 2009 by UI graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in Professor Christopher D. Roy's course on Yoruba art. To view the Simon Collection in its entirety, please select the appropriate option on the Media page.

Summer Trentin, "Regional Styles of Ere Ibeji"

The Yoruba occupy a large area of southwestern Nigeria that encompasses many diverse communities. While ere ibeji serve the same purpose throughout Yoruba country, carving styles vary by city and region. Some cities have very distinctive styles, while others are closely related to those of nearby towns. These styles have evolved over the history of ere ibeji carving, perhaps deriving from the continuing traditions passed down from early master carvers in each city. Since the figures must be approved by the babalawo, or priest, of each city, a certain amount of uniformity is retained from generation to generation in keeping with regional traditions (Fausto Polo and Jean David 2001: 20). Nearly every feature of an ere ibeji figure, from hairstyle to base, can be identified as the product of a particular region, city, or workshop. 

Some twin figures are extremely difficult to classify into a particular style. Figures that are carved by amateurs or less-skilled craftsmen, for example, may fail to conform to style conventions. Also, the movement of carvers from one region to another sometimes results in hybrid styles, as artists combine the style they have learned with that of a new locale. (On the difficulties in determining the origin of twin figures (Stoll and Stoll, Ibeji: Zwillingsfiguren der Yoruba; Twin Figures of the Yoruba 1980: 92-93). With new traditions and materials changing the way ere ibeji are produced and used, it is likely that new styles of twin figures will both supplement and replace the old, contributing to the constant evolution of African art. 

An understanding of the styles produced by carvers of different cities and regions is essential in determining the provenance of ere ibeji. Not only do they reflect carving traditions of particular towns, but they can also reveal outside influence, such as the triangular Islamic tirah carved onto some ere ibeji. However, even within cities, ere Ibeji can vary greatly based on a number of factors, including the artist who carved them, the time period in which they were made, and the family who commissioned them. This contributes to the richness, complexity, and individuality of Yoruba twin figures.  

Sources Cited 

Polo, Fausto and Jean David. Catalogue of the Ibeji. Zurich: Galerie Walu, 2001. 

Stoll, Mareidi and Gert Stoll, Ibeji: Zwillingsfiguren der Yoruba; Twin Figures of the Yoruba 

Go here to view the J. Richard Simon Collection of Yoruba Twin Figures in its entirety.