By Nii B. Andrews.
West Africa has one of the highest prevalences of twins in the world.
Nigeria, specifically Yorubaland (the south west of Nigeria) has 10 times more twins than any other region in the world.
A Yoruba praise song for twins goes thus:
“They are Two-at-a-Time in the eyes of their mother.
Generous children who bring good luck to their father.
Generous children who bring good luck to their mother.
Slight me and I will follow you,
Praise me and I will part from you.”
But there is an ambivalence about twin births in Nigeria.
In Igbo-Ora twins are celebrated with a recently inaugurated annual festival.
Elsewhere in Gwagwalada, in stark contrast, an orphanage stands as terrible testimony to continuing infanticide; and Calabar, a southern city where a 19th-century Scottish Presbyterian missionary, Mary Slessor, is honored for persuading local people to cherish, rather than kill, their twins.
Among the Yoruba, the twins – aka IBEJI, are revered as gifts from God, dual entities protected by spirits and possessed of magical powers.
In the recent past, two photographic series have explored the world of twins in Nigeria.
First, is Stephen Tayo, renowned Yoruba photographer who allowed the twins to be photographed attired as they wished. It was interesting that most pairs chose similar outfits and often presented themselves in mirror like poses.
This behavior forced Tayo to pose the question, “What is it like to have one’s identity always defined by the presence of another?”
His series is entitled IBEJI.
Second, Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne de Wilde explore the same subject in a series entitled LAND OF THE IBEJI.
Their mission is stated in more effusive and expanded terms thus, “to open the eyes to the twin as a mythological figure and a powerful metaphor: for the duality within a human being and the duality we experience in the world that surrounds us”.
They hope then, that “the mythology of twinhood becomes a way to address themes like identity, genetics, demographics, economy, religion and environmental issues”.
Perhaps we could all gain a better understanding of the mythology of twins if we referred back to hoary antiquity – to Castor and Pollux aka the Dioscuri who have always been considered helpers of mankind; Artemis and Apollo, and yet other pairs – Zethos and Ampion; Agenor and Belos; Aigyptos and Danaos (?founders of Egypt); Romulus and Remus; Osiris and Isis; Jacob and Esau.
There was an obvious variety found in ancient mythology surrounding the behaviour of twins; this means that generalisations are difficult to uphold.
Considering the spectrum of destinies given to mythological twins, there is a “complex range of twin relations, from intimate union and concord to rivalry and deadly hate.”
In classic traditional Yoruba thought, this arises from two individuals sharing the same soul; and of course the younger twin is the one born first.