Historical link between the Ga and the Yoruba
It is believed that the Ga-Adangbe came from Ile Ife at Yorubaland in Nigeria through Seme, a settlement on the border between Nigeria and Republic of Benin of today. According to popular oral traditions, the groups migrated together crossing the Mono River but scattered after crossing the Volta River (Nortey, 2012). They settled on the Accra plains within the south eastern corner of Ghana (Kilson, 1974). Their initial administrative capital was Ayawaso but was later moved to Accra, as Ghana gained its independence in 1957 and Accra became the capital city of Ghana.
Indigenous belief system among the Ga and Yoruba
The Ga, like other ethnic groups in Ghana and Nigeria, believe in life after death. They demonstrate this belief through comprehensive funeral rites. The type of occupation the deceased engaged in on earth while alive is believed to continue in the next world and as such a coffin is carved to depict the work of the deceased for their burial. The Ga, just like the Yoruba people, belong to Islam, to Christian faith or to traditional religious beliefs (Leroy, Olaleye-Oruene, Koeppen-Schomerus, & Byrant, 2002). They believe in the immortality of the soul and on its re-birth, which are both essential to the Ibeji twin belief.
The Ibeji sculptural figures in perspective and their aesthetic considerations
The Ibeji figures among the Yoruba provide an insight into the recognition of twins within the Yoruba society. The visual sculptural form presents the viewer with a glimpse of what the Yoruba society cherishes through the lens of visual culture. The two figures are presented in semi-abstract forms showing a male and a female (based on genital characteristics). It also shows the relevance of beads in body adornment as found in their usage in the form of necklace, wrist-bands, and waist-bands. On the heads of the figures are scarifications (marks on the body) and both figures are holding a string of cowries.
Cowries were extensively used during pre-colonial times in Africa as symbol of wealth and used as currency and medium of exchange, for symbolic messages, as objects of divination, as jewelry and as a religious accessory, as well as a powerful force that represents the eye of the gods and the womb of the goddess (Yiridoe, 1995; Wayne, 2010; Odunbaku, 2012). Also, the projection of the breasts of one figure is an indication of a female with youthful exuberance.
The pronounced shapes in the figures are curves with minor angular forms in feet and ears. Both figures also show projecting and rounded forehead which are basic characteristics of many African figures. The head-gear is cylindrical and this is similar to that of the Dipo initiates among the Krobo of Ghana who are related to the Dangme.
Though the basics of African aesthetic differ across cultures, the common ones would include symbolism, togetherness, luminosity, craftsmanship, self-composure, and youthfulness (Molokwane, 2010; Vogel 1986). In the Ibeji figures, it is envisaged that a culture of teamwork was involved in the production process, from the felling of the tree through carving to the finishing of the statuettes, building a sense of communal unity. The craftsmen usually work with a master-craftsman. In terms of craftsmanship, the figures are sculpted intricately, with exquisite details, body adornment, and to excellent finish that has made them stand the test of time.
Symbolism is embedded into traditionally African made objects and the Ibeji figures are no exception. They have elegant glossy finishes that portray purity and well-being/good health. The author considers the statuettes (reference to the Ibeji figures) as being young: vibrant, healthy, and a source of strength.
Recognition of twins in Yoruba and Ga societies
In many traditional African societies, twins are considered of supernatural origin and raised emotional reactions ranging from fear and dislike to hope and joy (Leroy, 1995). It is believed that twins are able to grant happiness, health and prosperity upon their family. As such, their nurture is far more venerated than that of other children (Stoll & Stoll, 1980).
Another similarity in terms of belief and practice between the Ga and the Yoruba is that twins share the same combined soul, and it is envisaged that when a new-born twin dies, the life of the other is exposed because the balance of his soul has become disturbed. To forestall any danger, a special ritual is carried out. Though the Yoruba carve a small wooden figure as a symbolic substitute for the soul of the deceased twin, the Ga only perform the ritual. If both twins have died, two of these figures are made among the Yoruba. These statuettes are called Ere ibeji (from ‘ibi’, meaning born and ‘eji’, two; ere means sacred image).
The Ga believe that the twins are special messengers from the Supreme god and therefore highly revered. They also believe that they could bring either a good or bad omen to the society based on the way they are treated. The Yam Festival which falls on the Friday of the Ga Homowo festival celebrated in August, presents a special occasion for twins in the Ga community who are presented with special feast in a form of sumptuous meal and mashed yam with eggs. It is honouring the twins in the traditional families (Nortey, 2012).
During the Homowo festival celebration on Friday, twins carry herbal mixture (leafy concoction) called “baa woo” that is prepared in metal containers and they move through the township in a frenzied manner amid singing and chants. The special concussion is believed to induce fertility and as such people bath themselves with it with the hope of bearing twins.
The belief in reincarnation and life after death are linked to the Ga and Yoruba ancestor belief. As part of the veneration of twin in families, the Yoruba carve Ibeji figures that has symbolic and spiritual relevance among the people. Among the Ga and the Yoruba, twins are revered and honoured. Furthermore, the two societies believe that every human soul has a chance to return to earth as a new-born, mostly within the same family. The wellbeing of any family is dependent on that of its ancestors and twins. Therefore, periodic prayers/rites are said and sacrificial gifts are presented to ancestral deities, including the Ibeji figures.
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This article is part of a gallery: Perspectives from Ghana on Museum Objects in Germany
Published January 2021