By Toromade Tope Adekanye
There is no country in the world without twins population, actually, none appreciates, celebrates and glorified twins as the Yoruba people of the South West Nigeria. The Yorubas are known for having an extraordinary high rate of twins birth in the whole world.
Research shows that, out of every one thousand births, forty to forty-five are twins. Invariably they are rated to have the highest rate of twins mortality rate in the world. The Yoruba believe strongly in their traditional religion that each person has one soul, in the history of ancestral souls. But the twins’ case is different as they are believed to share one soul. That is why, when a twin dies as infant, the balance of the soul is disturbed and affected. In the past an Ifa priest is consulted to put the twins’ soul into balance. At the advice of the priest, a well established carver is engaged to carve a small wooden memorial figure that symbolizes the dead twin. If both twins die, two figures are made accordingly to their gender and the souls then transplanted spiritually into the figures in order to maintain the spiritual bond between the living twin and the dead twin.
The number of twins statuettes. (Ere-Ibeji) in Nigeria museums and other museums around the world are material evidence and testimony of the above. The origin of the twins could be traced to the Holy Bible, In the book of Genesis chapter 25 verse 24 to 26 where Esau and Jacob were born to the family of Isaac and Rebekah.
In Yoruba land, the first set of twins is not known, but according to one yoruba oral tradition corroborated by Ejiogbe twins of Inisa in Oyo state, the origin of twins is traced to one hunter in Isokun town, whose wife was barren. They approached Ifa Priest and the hunter was told not to kill “Edun” a specie of Columbus monkey that used to ravage his maize farm. He was advised to offer sacrifice and place it at the maize farm. The following month the wife became pregnant and nine months after she gave birth to twins. That is why “Edun” meat is forbidden for twins and their mothers. Long ago, the birth of twins was regarded as an unnatural bad omen, evil, ominous event often associated with promiscuity, animality and result of sexual ecounters with the spirit. Thus often twins and sometimes, the mothers were killed. However, two incidents occured in Yorubaland that led to the reference and glorifical of twins. It was recorded that between 18th and 19th century, the wife of Ajaka, Alaafia gave birth to a set of twins, instead of killing the twins as before, the king ordered that both the mother and the twins be banished to a remote forest. The twins survived miraculously and eventually founded settlements where they later became kings. This explains why Ibeji figures are found in Sango shrines across yorubaland because Sango was a king in Oyo. This incident encouraged ordinary citizens to retain their own twins. In another development, a couple from Oyo in their bid to understand the mystery behind their frequent twins birth, they consulted an Ifa Priest who told them not to kill them and prescribed certain rituals which they performed. As a result, the couple eventually became very wealthy. The news of their prosperity spread to other parts of yorubaland that the preserved twins had attracted good fortune to their parents. The wide acceptance of twins as a source of wealth brought about the inevitable rise of Ere Ibeji cult. Meanwhile, the first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Tayewo or Taiyewo (meaning the child that came to taste the world) while kehinde is the last to come. The yoruba traditionally say that Kehinde is the true elder of the twins despite being the last to be born, because it is believed that he/she sent Taiwo on an errand, a prerogative of one’s elder in yoruba land. Thus Kehinde is therefore referred to as “Omokehinde gbegbon” which means the child that came last become the elder. The Yoruba regarded twins as fertility figures and spiritual beings capable of bringing prosperity to their parents or impoverish them depending on how they are treated.
The twins figures or image (Ere-Ibeji) emanated from the belief of the yoruba people that though twins are physically two yet they are spiritually one, meaning they shared the same soul. Hence the believe that if one of the twins dies, the balance of the twin’s soul is disturbed, thus a moden memorial figure is carried on the advice of an Ifa priest to house and localize the soul of the dead twin, in order to maintain the spiritual bond between the living and the dead twins. Ere Ibeji figures are usually carved by specialized and remounced wood carvers. The figures are formed out of the wood of “Ire” tree, the tree is selected because of its unique growth as the vast majority of the tree always grows in pairs bearing the same root, while some grows separately.
The ones that grow in pair are used for the carving of the Ere-Ibeji as it has both the male and female when the tree is about to be cut for carving, the carver in question will identify the sex of the tree by facing the risen of the sum (East), while in this direction, the particular Ire tree that is on the right direction represent the male while the one on the left direction is the female Ire tree.
The cutting of the tree is done according to the sex of the deceased twin. The carver that is engaged by the twins parents to carve a surrogate image for their twins usually see it as a spiritual assignment. The agreed fee and all the items that are required for the duration of the assignment will be supplies by the twins parents, upon completion of the figures, an Ifa priest is invited to perform the ritual of transferring the spirit of the dead twin to the carved figure(s). the twins parent usually celebrates the arrival of the figure (s) in their home with funfair, feasting and dancing. The mother of the twins cares for the figure as much as she takes care of the living twins. The belief is that the survival of the living twin depends on how much care is given to the surrogate images. The mother keeps the figure close to her bed, rubs the figure with red wood power (Osu). The ritual ceremony of ere-Ibeji is a continuous exercise during their birthday and other celebrations. Suitable twins’ food used for the celebration includes, cooked beans, groundnut, Akara, fried corn meal (Adun),sugar cane e.t.c There are taboos that twins and their parents must observe in the course of the twin upbringing and even when the twins is of age.
Twins are forbidden to eat the flesh of “Edun” a specie of Columbus monkey. It is also a taboo for twins or their mother to taste Adin (Palm karnel oil) and it must not be rubbed on the lips of Ere-Ibeji. Although there is an opinion from Taiwo and Kehinde (Eji gbe) that Adin is not poisonous to twins but rather, it fights for them and causes their enemies to die one after the other. During Ibeji festival, the twin and twins figures must be dressed alike with the same cloth and decorated with beads and cowries depending on the social status of the family to which they belong. Over the years, a lot of changes have taken place in the celebration of twins festival, the festival is not celebrated as in the past.
Also carving of figure for dead twin is no longer as common as it was in the past. It is very pertinent to stress that in the past, culture and traditions have a very strong footing in yoruba society. Twins and their parents look forward to the festival day, as it is usually a period of feast set aside to celebrate and glorify twins.
Today, western education, urbanization and foreign religion have indeed destroyed that fabric of yoruba society. Most people because of religion do not want to be associated or identified with the twins festivals condemning it as fetish and idolating.
However, in modern times even where the festival is being celebrated, it has become a shadow of its old self due to the above reasons. A lot of twins and their parents do not believe in observing the taboos that are associated with twins due to western religious belief and civilization.
The challenges and problems some twins are facing today is not unconnected with the above as claimed by some yoruba elders that the economic and financial prosperity in yorubaland in the time past is linked to veneration and glorification of twins.