The Ibeji Cult of the Yoruba

The Yorubaland has the highest twin birthrate in the world, about 45 out of every 1000 births (4). Yoruba ora

traditions say that twins, ibeji, can bring either joy or despair to their family. In earlier times, twins were feared an

infanticide was a common practice. The Yoruba people could not understand why a woman gave birth to more t one child. However, over time the practice and beliefs changed. People began to praise the twins and believed could bring a family wealth. Through Yoruba oral traditions we can try to recall the history of this tradition. Because of this change in practice and the high infant death rate, the people of Yoruba began to carve wooden figures, ere ibeji. The figures are meant to honor the deceased twin or twins. Today, some people in Yoruba still practice this tradition. However, it has been further altered due to the strong presence of other religions (1).

Ibeji History

a significant event must have occurred in order to change the ibeji tradition. By the mid-18th century a change in practice and belief took place (4). The practice of infanticide is unusual in Yoruba. If the family performed the appropriate rituals.In early practices in Yoruba ibeji were not highly revered. Some believed that the mother was promiscuous. Some believe this change took place because foreigners thought infanticide was immoral. There are no written accounts from an African about this change in practice and belief. By the 19th century ibeji became recognized as a symbol of wealth and power or trouble (4). Others believed that the twins were bad luck and would bring the family misfortune. The reason for this change is hard to understand because their traditions are passed orally. traditionally children and family were praised in their culture (2). However. However. the twin babies were killed. Infanticide was a popular practice among the Yoruba. other believe that something occurred within the Yoruba people. and therefore had multiple children to represent her partners (1). To remedy this problem. if not problems would arise (2). the twins would bring the family wealth. The change was significant to Yoruba beliefs and therefore something grand must have happened. . I have collected several oral traditions that help to explain the origin and the change in practice of the ibeji cult of the Yoruba people. People did not understand why a woman would bear two children instead of one. at some point this practice changed.

Chappe I. bu would have to dance around the town with them every five days. so much so that people called him "the Eshu following after twins. In this course of time they became so wealthy that people began to say it was the twins who had them rich. near Porto Novo. Ifa said that they should keep the twins. In olden days twins were forbidden and anybody having them had to kill them before it came to the notice of th [local ruler]. in Dahomey. would look after the child.I. Oral Tradition 1964 during a field study in the Yorubaland: This story was told by Chief Ajanaku. When the Alafin hea this he decided that Idowu should come to Oyo and he. himself. H. Because of this peo Idowu became very rascally in Oyo. and thi because Isokun was not. Oral Tradition . was the first place where twins were allowed to stay. (1)" came to believe that the Alafin has actually given his blessing to twin births and so they stopped killing their twin II. So they consulted the Ifa oracle. This they did and everyone took pity on them a gave them gifts. He was convinced by what he heard tha twins were lucky children. When these twins were born the parents did n know whether to kill them or to let them live because they were not in their own country and it was not the custom those parts to kill twins as in Oyo. so he said it was all right for the parents to keep them and not kill them as was the cust After some time these same parents at Isokun had another child whom they named Idowu. Araba of Lagos (the head of Ifa priests in Lagos) to T. at that time part of the kingdom of Oyo. Isokun. This story eventually reached the ears of the Alafin at Oyo. J.

neither wild animal or domestic animal. In Oyo it was the practice to kill twins with the help of a knife at the neck fo this time people were distrustful of twins.] However. They could not understand why a woman should give birth to two at a when she was neither animal nor a goat [i. the parents of the decided to keep their children. They called their camp Isokun.This story was told to T. H.e. It happened one of the group gave birth to twins. Chappel by an elderly woman born in the Isokun quarter in Oyo: II. went to the country near A [capital of the kingdom of Porto Novo] and decided to settle there. The sacrifice was duly performed and as a result the pare rich as well (1). became very rich. who were traders. J.. When the people in Oyo heard of this they decided to keep their twins so that they might bec III. They consulted Ifa and Ifa said that it would be all right for them to keep the twi provided they performed a certain sacrifice for them. A long time ago some people from Isokun quarter in Oyo town. Oral Tradition .

Akanbe has given birth to twins/ Akanbe has given birth to twins. This is important because in the Yoruba poem that Twin was not made of chief/ Our Lord puts a crown on his head. IV. Born of twin monkey [edun]. it is a part of my destiny to have you. Oral Tradition .III. God." In this song the twins are said to be born from edun. The following is a song mother's of twins would sing because they believed that giving birth to twins was "a g the edun the ibeji are incorporated into the tale (1) Oluwa [our Lord] has decreed it/ It is God's will. I am holding your letter/ Twins./ Twins do not need earthly titles/ They are crowned by God.

the one which he knew/ Before he was born/ The boy began to visit his mother's other children/ He started t At this point another story is introduced./ They predicted that th children/ Would turn Orunmila into a king. Then Edun who had come there from the city/ Said to his colleagues:/ "Iwa" [being.. The medicine is the bark from a particular tree which he is having great difficulty finding. Finally. Olofin/ Olofin also greeted him/ He then used his tail/ To sweep clean the foot of a certain big tree/ Which At this time in the story edun goes to the river and offers Olofin water.. he arrives in a part of the forest inhabited by a number of Colobus monkeys. many festivals and celebrations The people said: "You Edun/ You are the relation of we human beings/ But you are also related to the anim . It describes how oba Olofin of Ife needs to find medicine in the wood discouraged and fearful. This poem is in the literature of Ifa and describes the honorable relationship between edun and ibeji: May the sacrifices be accepted and blessed/ This is the verse of Ifa which talks about ibeji/ It talks about who ibeji/ really are on earth/ And what they are from heaven/ It discusses especially how they are on earth/ In a p hundred original imole of the left/ The ibeji have been counted together with them/ Before that number was of honor/ And as something to be greatly regarded/ Out of the four hundred imole [spirits] of the right/ And established/ They are not an addendum/ How the orisha are among human beings/ And how their honor and ase [authority]/ Dwell with all things everywhere/ That is how the matter of ibeji also is/ This is because the I which discusses them/ Talks about how Orunmila [deity of wisdom]. He accepts and returns to the city with monkey.. Olofin refused to admit he had been lost. life or existance] is lost/ his sick son. nicknamed Ajana/ First gave birth to the edun persons who are known as ibeji/ In very ancient times/ These persons who were children of Orunmila/ Are kn The Ifa priests predicted for her that she would have/ Two children at the same time.IV. He is beco lost/ "Iwa" is lost/ This matter was not understood by his colleagues/ He then started to go towards the place the lost king was/ Where the lost king was going up and down senselessly in the forest/ He saw Olofin/ He g plenty of shade/ Olofin said that he could not longer know where he was going./ Orunmila performed the sacrifice/ Peregu became pregnant again/ When she delivered/ She gave birth to twins/ One male and the other female/ They them Edun [Colobus monkey]/ The male one started to study Ifa/ The Ifa which he learned/ Was not as gre their homes/ He understood the language of animals very well/ Because they were his mother's children/ He understood the language of birds very well/ Because they too were his mother's children/ He also spoke the language of human beings./ They asked Orunmila to perform sacrifice with/ Two rats and tw Two hens and two pigeons/ Two goats and twenty-one cowries. Because of his arrival home..

and until today/ In all cities founded by Orunmila himself/ He has given them the commandment/ That they m V..You will henceforth reproduce yourself as a human being/ And that will allow us to live with you./ Therefore twin who were first born by Orunmila/ Are the ones who started among human beings/ The family of twins/ Since eat the meat of the Colobus monkey (1)./ If they kill him/ They know for certa That they have killed a colleague of their children/ And they would suffer the consequences./ Edun said t would reproduce himself among human beings/ In such a way that his children would look like human beings/ B must not call his children by any other name than Edun/ It was after that human beings started to give birth to t eat the meat of the Colobus monkey/ Because they realize that it is he who has come to be/ reborn as a child As soon as they gave birth to twins/ They would say Edun has come/ Since then the parents of twins/ Mus home. Oral Tradition ../ The parents of twins/ Must never kill the wild edun of the forest.

These towns are refered to as "twin towns. the twins became ruler Oluji. In the story the wife of Odua gave birth to twins and they were immediately to referred Osemowe." town. The female ibeji became queen of Ondo. "These children are demons. As time passed.V. the earth and Olorum/ Would help such a person care for his children/ A born henceforth/ Must not be killed/ And they must not be thrown away/ Parents shoul ibeji/ He would start to rejoice (1). allowed to take care of their own children/ As from this time. or Ijamo. Odu Ifa called Okanran Irosun: Olofin took the horn of aba [principle]/ And he also took the horn of ase [authority]/ H them out/ He assembled all the inhabitants of the earth/ And asked them to make a law/ even if a person gave birth to triplets/ Everyone should join that person in prayer/ That Ori. The male counterpart became the oba of This verse describes Olofin's reaction when he realizes what has occured. his creator. whenever a person gives birt Ere Ibeji ." However. before they could be killed a hunter n Ija takes the twins and their mother into the forest.

The figures are commissioned by the parents o deceased. This tree is believed to be sacred to the ibeji God and is the wood used fo ere ibeji. About half of the twins die after birth (4). four calabash full of corn. two figures are made. If one child dies. The mother will treat and care for the ere ibeji figure as if the actual child (2). two dried rats. hens depending on the sex of the deceased. To chose a carver the parents must consult an Ifa diviner or babalawo. orisa of all who work with metal. 'ere' means sacred ima . two cock beans. two alligator peppers. and four tins of palm oil (1). The actual offering takes place in the Ogun s The artist requires other items from the parents of the deceased to successfully carve the figure. four kegs of palmwine. the ire wood is fairly easy to work with (1).from ‘ibi’ = born and ‘eji’ = two. Also. sixteen pieces of of big yam. The diviner will then the Ifa to select the correct artist to carve the ere ibeji. two dried fish. The Yoruba believe th twins share the same soul. Once the diviner determines the carver. For artists.Ere ibeji figures are used to represent deceased ibeji. parents of the deceased must also bring food and drink to the artist while during the carving process. one more cock is required sacrificed at the base of an ire tree. Due to the h death rate in Yorubaland there are a plethora of these figures. two snails. four calabash f However. one ere ibeji is made. if both twins die. These also recognize that Ogun the carver's house (1). The usually takes not more than one week. if both twins have died the parents must double the amount of items. If the parents do not produce these items the process will be slower and it will bring them bad luck. For one child items include: two kolanuts of any type. At birth the soul splits (3). a cock and two three-piece kolanuts. is involved in the carving process. The proc Ere Ibeji (Ere ibeji . the parents of t deceased twins must bring him offerings.

Ere Ibeji: carving The next process is carving the ere ibeji which is done in six steps (1): 1.with smaller tools. aletunle.adzes and chisels are used to define major body parts. legs. 3. onalile.the carver cuts the patterns on the figure including op eyes. arms and base. the artist gives the body parts m definition and refinement 4.cut the log into the appropriate size. sisa. finfin. 6. didan. hair styles and beads. usually from nine to thirteen inches 2. the head is usually about one-third the size of body. the artist carves in the facial marks pertaining to the fathe lineage Ere Ibeji: ritual was .the carver smoothes the body with special utensils 5.

kept in a keg that must not touch the ground after leaving the palm tree. they are not permitted to speak to anyone while on route. orugo. For one hour the mixture continues to boil. The artists uses this mixture to wash the figure. the leaves of the cowpeas are squeezed into the undiluted palm wine. Next. The palm commissioning the ere ibeji (1). Every morning someone is sent to retrieve this water. agbo. he prepares the mixture. It consists of bits of root from the Igi Aka or Akika tree. Then it is left to dry (1). he must perform a ritual washing on the ere ibeji. pieces of the ro the Ira tree. the pot is left on the hearth (1). bits of root from the Egbo-Elu tree and undiluted palmwine. The mixture is never reused but can be used for more t figure. part of an alligator pepper. The mixt made in a bowl large enough to hold at least two figures.Once the artist is content with his work on the figure. Also. After all the roots have been collected they are put in the pot and set on fire. bits of root from Ijokun and Ajekonbale trees. a packet of alligator peppers is broken and it's seeds are added to the pot just before it reaches a rolling boil. is poured into the pot. cuttings f young palm seedling. Idaro-agbedi or iron dross. First. Overnight. Fresh water. which is usually prepared by the person Ere Ibeji: Return to Parents .

Should my workmansh be egbewa?" Then he will throw the pieces on the ground. sugar cane. The food consists of various types of yams. the one of the four pieces of kolanuts that the parents brought will broken. the parents are to receive the ere ibeji. if after many throws the correct kolanuts do not appear then they assume that there is a hidden mean The ceremony is complete. The mother is instructed not to talk to a .The next task is transferring the ere ibeji to its parents. Friends and family of the artist and par are invited to the carver's house. resolve this the artist consults the orisa Ogun using the same process with the kolanuts (1). beans. The ointment consists of the leaves from seven ewe odundun. kolanuts an During this assembly. If this does not happen time first time the carver will increase his price until the correct kolanut pieces show. The parents who commissioned the work are given abo (1). The parents will prepare food and carry it to the carver's house for the occasi palmwine (1). If two face up and two face down he will charge the m fee. plantains. the mother faces her family. The leaves are ground into a pot. The mother and father of the ibeji will step forward to the Ogun shrine where the ere ibeji has been laid on a mat. However. Usually the carver can not accept a fee that is not approved by orisa Ogun. As they sing various songs to her she claps and dances in rhythm to their music (1). She will place the figure on her back. s butter and the egg is cracked and added to the mix (1). the carver performs a ritual sacrifice. through a certain procedure. seven worowo and one egg. The carver will hold the four ibeji. The carver rubs the figures with an ointment called ero which relieves aching joints. honey. eyin adiye kan. The artist will set aside a day for the parents to receive the ere The figures are removed from the pot three days before the parents arrive. The usual minimum fee is five in his left hand and place his right hand on the pieces and say: " Ogun lakaye Osinmole. the carver will determine how much he should be paid for the First. The ere ibeji is carried home by its mother. Next. mixed with palm o Around four or five on a Friday. week's notice to prepare for the figure's arrival. Then the carver will present the ere ibeji to her. If there are two she will put one on her back and one in her wrap at breast level. The mother kneels down with the father behind her and stretches her hands toward the figure while the artist recites a blessing. corn. After the blessing. tete atetedaye. groundnuts.

After completing these steps the commissioning of the ere ibeji is complete. is used to scrub the body of the figure. is performed every five days to e flavored with salt. mashed beans. ground camwood powder. osun. As a sign of wealth or connection to ro the mother will dress the figure with beads and shells (4). a cloth died with indigo or Rickets blue washing powder. and isu. The head of the figure is rubbed with waji. a mixture of cooked be . The appropriate food for the ibeji consists of epa. oriki. On third and seventh day after receiving the ere ibeji the parents prepare food and drink which they bring to the ca home. fried corn meal cake. The figure is placed upright during the day and lying down at night. sugarcane. Sometim mother will prepare clothes for the figure. aadun. groundnuts. ekuru. dodo. Once at home the parents scrub the figure with black soap and the chaff of chewed sugarcane. If the other twin is still alive they will be dressed in similar fashions. A small ceremony consisting of presenting food and praise songs. fried yam (1). fried plantain. ireke. akara. The ere ibeji is placed on an appropriate mat and pos in the corner of the mother's room.on her journey home (1).

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