Yoruba Ere ibeji figures to make $30,990 at African art auction

A rare collection of African tribal art figures are coming to auction in the UK on July 11. The ere ibeji figures were fashioned by the Yoruba tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups of west Africa.

Ere ibeji are haunting six to 10 inch high wood pieces, bearing the likeness of a twin or a pair of twins who have died. The figures are often cared for as though the child is still alive.

Yoruba figures
5% of Yoruba births are twins, double
the world's average

The Yoruba's rate of twin births is among the world's highest at 5%, yet around half of the twins will die shortly after birth.

54 of the figures, which feature physically mature depictions, will sell with estimates ranging from £100 to £1,500, and are expected to make £20,000 in total. Among the most valuable items is a male and female pair of circa 1900-1925 figures, attributed to the Abogunde of Ede. They have an estimate of £1,000-1,500.

"They are exquisite things," says consigner Geoffrey Key.

"I shall be sorry to see them go but you cannot possess everything in life. Moving house means it's time to let someone else have the pleasure of enjoying them."

It is thought to be the largest collection of ere ibeji outside of the US. Despite the exquisite beauty of the items and their fascinating history, their sheer ubiquity will prevent them from reaching far larger sums - the Yoruba are prolific carvers of the pieces.

Rarer, more finely carved items from the Yoruba can sell for huge sums at auction. Two Yoruba shrine figures from Nigeria sold for $110,500 at Sotheby's in May 2012.

We will bring you full results from the auction later in the week.

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