By Kunle Adamolekun, Ibadan
You are certainly familiar with annual festivals such as Christmas and Ramadan. But obviously oblivious of anything like festival of twins. The festival is an annual celebration in Igboora, a surburb of Oyo State, where virtually every family has a set of twins or more.
As a testimony to its being a repository of twins the community planted at entrance of the town an imposing statue of a woman carrying a set of twins, one on her chest and the other on her back. With their hands stretched out the characters in the statue are apparently saying, welcome to Igboora, the land of twins. Statistically, the community has about 158 sets of twins in every 1000 births. Unlike in Calabar where history has it that birth of twins was regarded as a taboo in ancient times, the birth of twins in Igboora has from time immemorial been regarded as one of the best things that can ever happen to a family.
Just as crude oil is a natural gift to the people of the Niger Delta, the birth of twins is an inexplicable gift in the community and hardly is there a family that does not have a set of twins or more. Those who are yet to have a set of twins in their families fervently pray for one because the birth of twins is believed to bring blessings. Even the poor members of the community who already have one or two sets of twins wish to have more without minding the economic implication. They simply believe that God who gives children would provide what they would eat. Interestingly, this rare gift of nature has shot the obscure community into international limelight with the United Nations World Health Organization rating it as the community that has the largest number of twins globally.
The community celebrates the festival annually and generously invites anybody who wishes to have twins to come to the community. The gift is however not restricted to the natives as checks revealed that non indigenes who live in the area have also been giving birth to twins. Even though their claim has not been verified, the community strongly believes that their record breaking in the birth of twins is as a result of white cassava flour and ilasa soup eaten as a delicacy in the area.
According to Chief Lamidi Laide Adeyemi , the Oni Pako of Pako, the birth of twins is not limited to any part of the six component area of the community. He said: “The birth of twins is everywhere here in Igboora. Hardly would you see a family in this community without twins. My father had sets of twins, so also did my grandfather. I am a father of twins as well. One is in Lagos and the other one in Port Harcourt. They have just married and would hopefully give birth to a set of twins or more. From the world immemorial, our forefathers have always regarded twins as unique creatures and adored them so much. There is hardly a family in this community that does not have twins. It is not restricted to the natives, even non-natives in our midst have also been giving birth to twins. So if you want to give birth to twins come to Igboora. The cassava flour and ilasa soup that we eat has been touted to be responsible for the multiple birth over the years.”
With the benefit of hind sight he recalled that when one of a set of twins dies, the forefathers would carve a statue to represent him or her. He added that their tradition forbids them from saying that such deceased twin is dead.
“Traditionally we don’t say that a twin is dead even when he or she is late. Instead of saying that we always say that he or she went to Lagos to buy cloth. Our forefathers even went a step further by carving statues of the dead ones to make it appear as if they are still living. They always wanted their memories kept alive. They always pass it from one generation to the other. I have some of such statues handed over to me by my father and forefathers (he brings them out). These statues are over 100 years old. I will in turn pass them to my children. They are not to be discarded or treated anyhow because there is a spell on whoever does that. The culture of carving images to represent dead twin has been drastically affected by civilization. Many youths of these days don’t do all that again but that does not mean that it has been abolished,” he said.
He added that, “Previously, our people always make a shrine in a corner of their rooms for twins. They always offered them red oil at the shrine. The red oil is believed to be medicinal because whenever a child, especially any of the twins is sick, our people would take the oil kept in the shrine of the twins to rob their bodies and before you know it, the sick child is up and playing around with his mates. In fact if anybody had his property missing or stolen, such person could go to the shrines to ask the twins to help him deal with the thief and retrieve the stolen property. All they needed to do is to offer things that are forbidden for twins to eat at the shrine. Anybody asking for the help of twins in this regard, would say that it is the thief that instructed him to offer such vile food to them. It is believed that such would compel the twins to go after the perpetrators of the crime. It worked for them. There are testimonies of its efficacy.”
Speaking on the annual festival of twins he said: “Festival of twins is a very big celebration in this place. We celebrate their festival annually because they are very special to us and the community as a whole. What we do on the day of the festival is to cook beans and mix it with oil and invite people to come and feast with us. Every family that has twins does it on the festival day. On the day of the festival people desiring to have twins would pray for it. The oldest twins in this community clocked 100 years this year. One of them died few months ago while the other one has been taken to Lagos by her children. Twins from this community are totally forbidden to eat the flesh of monkey. It is a taboo and it is believed that it would amount to eating their own flesh if they do such. It is not the twins alone that are prohibited from eating monkey. Every family that has twins must also not eat monkey.”
Nasiru Aremu, an artisan, said eating cassava flour and the native soup is not enough for anybody outside the community to give birth to twins. “It is true that the kind of food we eat in this environment makes us to have multiple birth. But that does not mean that people outside this area can give birth to sets of twins if they eat same delicacy. For anyone to enjoy this gift of nature in the manner we do here, the person must come and drink our water. You have to drink the water from this land and eat our delicacy before you can have twins in the manner we do here. My father gave birth to three sets of twins. Some of them have also given birth to sets of twins. I am yet to have a set of twins but I am hoping to have one or two sets of twins very soon because their birth attracts a lot of blessings and favours”, he said.
Yemisi Jimoh, a mother of two sets of twins, told said she desires to have more even though she does not have the financial muscle to take care of them. She said: “I have given birth to two sets of twins already. One of the first set is dead but here we don’t say they are dead. We simply say they have travelled to Lagos to buy cloth. Even though the economy is inclement, I wish to have one or more sets of twins. It is God that provides and takes care of the children we give birth to. There are many who have no children and can still not feed well. We have many children and God has been providing us with the basic things they need to live happy and healthy lives. I want more twins because experience has shown that they bring a lot of good tidings to any family that has them. There has been a tremendous improvement in our income and standard of living since we started having twins. The story is the same with many families that have twins in this area.”
Taiwo and Kehinde Ajasa, a set of twins and artisans, said apart from them, their parents also gave birth to another set of twins. They said they happy to have been born as twins. “I am happy to have come to this world as a twin especially in this kind of environment where the birth of twins is highly appreciated. I have had a very wonderful time with my twin brother all along. Our parents also showered us with love. Because we are identical, we suffer for each other’s shortcomings and also benefit from the good gestures. I want to give birth to twins because I am one,” said Taiwo.
Kehinde on his part said he would wish to marry a twin like him. “I wish to marry a twin and give birth to sets of twins so that my family can be home of twins. As twins, we can eat everything but monkey. Our family members must also not eat it. Tradition has it that we may die or suffer serious calamity if we eat it. During our festival, our food is cooked beans mixed with palm oil. It is the food of twins anytime and we always enjoy it.”
13-year-old Taiwo and Kehinde Owonikoko also shared the sentiments of the Ajasas. Both said they are happy to have been born as twins. “It is a great privilege to have been born a twin. There is something extraordinary about us. Our siblings that are not twins don’t get much attention from our parents as we do. We would also like to have twins when we marry because there is a lot of pride and blessings in having twins,” said Kehinde.
Alhaji Adekunle Hamzat, former Ibarapa Central Local Government Chairman, said he was not aware that birth of twins was so many in the community until the World Health Organisation came up with the result of its research on the community. “It dawned on me that we have rampant cases of multiple birth when the World Health Organization made public the result of its research on the community. There is even a compound where the people give birth to triplets regularly. It is amazing and we are proud that such things are happening in our midst,” he said.