Curses or Gods? A Fascinating Narrative of Twins

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“Other Nigerian precolonial cultures saw multiple births as a biological omen and a portent of bad will,” says Stephan Tayo, Nigerian Street Style Photographer. In Madagascar, the Antambahoaka tribe considers twins a curse, an abomination. According to tradition, if a woman gives birth to twins, she is expected to abandon them or face becoming ostracised by the community. In the British Channel 4 documentary, the elders of the village were confronted with the question as to why twins weren’t welcomed by the community. In their response which was eventually confirmed by two translators, they said “to us asking us to raise twins is like asking us to eat our own shit.”

In the age when an increasing number of people shy away from having many children, the idea of having triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets, and octuplets or to say the least twins, could be very frightening and highly unwelcomed. However, there are still a handful of people and cultures who do not only dream of twins for instance, but also venerate them when they are born. In Africa, especially in West Africa, twins are highly celebrated, because they are considered a sacred blessing and gift from God or rather, the gods of the land. Hence, they are regarded as noble beings possessing super natural powers, dwelling in our midst. A divine presence that requires ultimate exaltation.

What does it take to have twins?

Scientist claim women who are over age 30, especially women in their late 30s, have a greater chance of having twins, because they are more likely to release more than one egg during ovulation than younger women. More specifically, woman between 35 and 40 who already have given birth have an even higher chance of conceiving twins, supposedly. Although there aren’t many scientific studies to confirm this, many believe taking Folic acid (Vitamin B) before and during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of conceiving multiples. Doctors recommend taking about 400 micrograms of folic acid per day prior to becoming pregnant and increasing this amount to 600 micrograms during pregnancy. Some people recommend home remedies such as eating particular food, and the list goes on and on.

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Researchers from the Radboud University in the Netherlands and the sociology department at the university of Oxford University found that Africa has the world’s highest twin-birth rates: “A zone with high twinning rates runs from Guinea in the West along the Atlantic coast to [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and then crosses the continent to Tanzania, Mozambique and the Comoros.” According to research, Nigerian women currently have the highest rate of twin births compared to other women around the world. This was first established by an early research by a British gynaecologist, Patrick Nylander, between 1972 and 1982, recording an average of 45 to 50 sets of twins per 1000 live births in the southwestern region of Nigeria.

Welcome to Igbo-Ora in Nigeria, the highly acclaimed ‘land of twins.’ Studies claim almost 5% of all Yoruba births in this community produce twins. A former Chief nursing officer at the Muyibi Yomi hospital in the region disclosed, a monthly average of five twins are born for every 100 births. Olayide Akinyemi, a 71-year-old father of 12 and then community leader told researchers, “There is hardly a family here without a set of twins. My father had 10 sets, while I had three sets. But only one set, a male and a female, survived.” To explain this twin phenomenon which continues to baffle scientists, many inhabitants of the community attribute this unique incident to their diet. The region is highly endowed with yams, locally known as agida, which contain a natural hormone known as phytoestrogen, which may stimulate the ovaries to produce an egg from each side. In addition, they believe the high consumption of okro leaf or Ilasa soup also plays a key role in enabling the birth of multiple children.

The door of hope gives hope to abandoned children

In his 2019 photographic project known as Ibeji -referring to twins-, Mr. Tayo highlighted peculiarities surrounding twinship among the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Although the twins are individuals with different ideologies, different personalities and a unique sense of style, twins here are only worshipped when seen as a unit. The Yoruba people also believe that twins, whose feet loosely planted on the ground, must be cajoled to stay earth-bound by exceptional human care usually in the form of rituals. As a unit they are granted supernatural protection that extends to their family and tribe. In case one twin dies, this protection automatically dissipates. This duality extends to life after death. The people believe that everything done for one, must be done for the other. If one twin dies the parents of a deceased twin often commission a traditional priest, to carve a wooden figure as a physical representation of the deceased twin. This wooden figure will be taken care of by the parents and family members as if it were a real person.

Meanwhile twins in Nigeria are highly valued and celebrated, twins in some African countries like Madagascar usually end up being abandoned or adopted by foreigners. As the saying goes ‘one man’s poison is another man’s medicine’. Late 2018 the local government in Oyo State, Nigeria, organised the twin festival at Igbo-ora pulling together over 2000 set of twins. While celebrating the uniqueness of the local community, Mr Toye Arulogun, the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, revealed “The effort of government is to promote the town as the foremost twins’ tourism destination in the world. It is also to promote the town’s predominant meal, ‘Amala and Ilasa’, acclaimed to be responsible for the multiple births. We assure our people that the state government will not relent in its drive to promote Igbo-ora’s tourism potentials,” he said. At the end of the day we are all entitled to our culture and traditions.

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