ANTHONY WHITE | The Trouble with Twins: Image and Ritual of the Yoruba ère ìbejì

The Yoruba peoples of southwest Nigeria, West Africa – many of whom have linked the phenomenon of human twin birth with instability, disruption and the unnatural – see twins as a cause for both anxiety and celebration. Yoruba twin sculptures [ère ìbejì] are a sculptural and ritual form of ‘working’ on twins to manage the threat they pose to the everyday realm of the family and to the wider society. The rituals associated with twin sculptures are a means of incorporating the dangerous power of the twins into a meaningful sphere of human action in a way that celebrates and copes with their powerful presence. This essay looks at the ‘trouble’ of Yoruba twins by analysing the ritual, belief and image-making practices surrounding them, and, in a reading informed by René Girard’s 1977 text Violence and the Sacred, by showing how ère ìbejì touch on issues of social distinction and violence. Download article pdf (4.5mb)