Twins & Monkeys

In Yoruba culture, twins are generally associated with the black-and-white colobus monkey. It is believed that colobus monkeys and twins share the same unpredictable and active nature. Both twins and monkeys can escape to the world above at will. Monkeys can climb up into trees while twins are believed to be able to die at will. The Yoruba believe that while the twins are still in the womb, they negotiate with the colobus monkey so that they can be born as humans and not monkeys. If a colobus monkey wanders into a family home, it is treated kindly like all other children and never driven away. This is because it is believed that the monkey holds the soul of a deceased twin who is unhappy with their ere ibeji. 

Happy Lunar New Year! Observed by a diverse range of Asian cultures, the Lunar New Year is a time of modern festivity and ancient tradition. Today, we ring in the Year of the Monkey, a figure associated with cleverness, curiosity, and mischief. 

Pictured is the black-and-white colobus monkey diorama, from the Museum’s Akeley Hall of African Mammals. True forest dweller, colobus monkeys inhabit the middle and upper portions of the tree canopy, rarely descending to the ground. Their diet is vegetarian, consisting mostly of leaves, with some fruits and flowers. The background painting is the first that artist Fred Scherer painted solo. It is evocative not only of the Aberdare Mountains rainforest in Kenya, but of the great height of the treetops. 

Learn more about the Lunar New Year.