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Ewe Female Twin Figure Venavi

Ewe Female Twin Figure Venavi

Regular price €395,00
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Ewé people, early to mid. 20th century, Togo, Benin or Ghana, West Africa

Magnificent, aged female twin figure beautifully carved out of light-colored wood, generally from the wood of the kapok tree. She is standing on her two feet, legs slightly apart, and a well-sculpted torso with rounded shoulders, pointed breasts and long arms hanging downward and away from its body, and wearing a necklace and beaded waistbands of orange and white small glass beads, possibly added at a later date. Her cylindrical long neck carries a relatively large head considering the proportions of her lean body. Typical Ewe features on this figure include the ovoid face with strong features of a flat, broad long nose, protruding almond-shaped eyes, and intricate scarifications on a forefead and both cheeks. Large ears pierced for decoration (now absent) and her elaborate coiffure painted black. The face has been partly worn away as a result of feeding, rubbing and washing rituals. The worn-away facial features are intentional and are believed to serve as a protective measure. The Ewe believe that facial features of powerful spirits can be dangerous and may cause harm to the living if depicted in their entirety. The Ewé people consider the birth of twins (called venavi or venovi) as a good and fortunate omen. Twins are considered to be immortal. They believe that the twins have a joint soul. If one dies, the other twin is also threatened with death because their soul has lost its steadiness and swing between this world and the next. A venavi figure is acquired to represent the deceased twin and is equally maintained as though alive. This will restore the soul's balance. Figures was also used as fertility dolls or fetishes by women who placed them under their matresses. Sometimes young women could also wear them under their clothes to promote their fertility.

The traditional Fon religion is regionally called Vodoun, meaning "numerous immortal spirits and deities" in the Fon and Ewé languages. Vodoun is also spelled Vodun, Vodzu, Vodu or Voudou. The religious practise of the Fon people have four overlapping elements: public gods, personal or private gods, ancestral spirits, and magic or charms. The ancestral cult, believed to be necessary for the perpetuation of the clan, is the focal point of Fon social organization and of much religious activity. A typical traditional home compound of the Fon people has a Dexoxos, or ancestral shrine. There, the tovodu (family gods) are annually "fed" and honored with dancing and songs. The Fon people have a concept of a supreme being called Nana Buluku, both male and female, who gave birth to the twins named Mawu and Lisa; the first, female, was given command of the night, and the second, male, was associated with the day. After giving birth, the Mother supreme retired, and left everything to Mawu-Lisa, deities, spirits and inert universe. 

Vodou cosmology centers around the spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees and rocks, as well as dozen of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. Medicine is also influenced by Vodoun practises, local healers, and priests usually use plants, dried animal parts to celebrate rituals, and deal with the disease. Vodun talismans, called fetishes, are objects such as statues or dried animal or human parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Specifically, they are objects with inhabited by spirits. The charms are locally called gbo, gris gris, ju ju, or obeah, involve leaves, herbs, smoke and these are offerings to public or personal gods of each family. These are said to be given to humans by Legba and Sangbata (the earth deity who watches over the fields and waters of the earth and punishes offenders with smallpox), and especially by the small hairy creatures (aziza) who live in anthills and silk-cotton trees. The Ewé share many aspects of culture, religion, and art with the Fon and indeed occasionally travel to Benin to obtain shrines and spiritual aid. They share many gods, including Mawu. Similar, too, are the practise of Afa divination and Legba cult. The deity of sacred forest (Nyigbla) is very important to Ewé as well as the entire pantheon of Yehve spirits, including the god of lightning and thunder (Heviesso).

Good condition. Traces of ceremonial use and handling over many years. Worn patina with a glossy smooth honey hue. Fractures and cracks on the feet/ rounded base. Fantastic rounded much-handled and washed patina. Size approx. 27,0cm x 8,7cm x 5,7cm (excluding the modern stand).

Provenance: Swedish private collection.

References and further reading:

African Vodun: Art, Psychology and Power, Suzanne Preston Blier, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Vodún/Vodu, Resistance, and North/South Relations in Undemocratic Togo, Eric J. Montgomery, Brill, Journal of Religion in Africa, pp. 224-248, 2020.

Vodou, Serving the Spirits, The Pluralism Project, Harward University, 2020.

Four Vodun Ceremonies, George Eaton Simpson, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 59, No. 232, pp. 154-167, Amercan Folklore Society, 1946.

Contemporary Vodun Arts of Ouidah, Benin, Dana Rush, African Arts, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 32-47 + 94-96, UCLA, 2001.

They Died in Blood: Morality and Communitas in Ewe Ritual, Eric J. Montgomery, Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 25-40, 2018.

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