Ibejis and Black Childhood

A representation of black childhood inspired by African ancestry.

Twin Figures (Ere Ibeji) (late 19th - early 20th century) by UnknownNorth Carolina Museum of Art

The Ibejis are elements of relevant importance within the Yoruba cosmology, an African ethnic group from the regions of present-day Nigeria and Benin.

The Yorubas arrived in Brazil as slaves in the first half of the 16th century, and since then have strongly contributed to the formation of Afro-Brazilian cultures, with emphasis on contributions in the field of religion and worldviews. And it is in this context and perspective that Ibejis are understood, as cultural elements that reflect and reveal civilizing values ​​of the Yoruba peoples in the formation of Brazil and Brazilian culture.

Ere ibeji twin figures (19th century - mid-20th century) by Unknown Yoruba artistRoyal Ontario Museum

Ibejis are entities that express general aspects of human dualities, like luck and chance, and are represented by two twins, children.

Thus, it is also possible to associate them with the conceptions of “childhood” within the Yoruban cultural context and in a macro way, within the cultural contexts of the African continent.

Ibeji (2020) by Robinho SantanaAfro Brasil Emanoel Araujo Museum

“In some regions of Nigeria and Benin, the Yoruba believe that the twins are responsible for bringing wealth to their families, as long as they are honored. On the other hand, these same twins can lead their families to poverty when they are offended or neglected...

...For this reason, it is quite common for parents of twins to give their brothers a lot of attention and constantly offer them gifts, music, dances and special foods. The twins, because they feel very connected, sense the suffering or joy of each other, even if they are physically distant. Therefore, they are believed to have the same soul."

The Yoruba ways and customs of relating to childhood raise a reflection on the representation of black children, so rarely represented in western art with dignity and reality.

This artwork was inspired by the history of the Ibejis, and created in celebration of Black Consciousness Day in Brazil, observed on November 20th.

Robinho Santana deals with the theme of the "Ibejis", where he builds his reinterpretation of the myth and the symbology of the Yoruba twin brothers, expressed in the figure of two black Brazilian children.

Ibejis can also represent an ancestral African perspective of childhood as opposed to Western perspectives, where infantilization necessarily means something pejorative.

Robinho also contextualizes how the ibejis are interpreted in Brazil, rethinking human existence under non-Manichean dualities, given that the Yoruba twins are the representatives of luck and chance and of the correlation between feminine and masculine.

Thus, ibejis represent, in addition to ancestry, a possibility for the future, represented by two children in all their potential and possibilities.

Credits: Story

Text and research: Douglas Araújo
Artwork: Robinho Santana

A special collaboration between Afro Brasil Museum and Google Arts & Culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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