Worship of twins in Yoruba Nigeria
The Yoruba tribe of Nigeria are said to have one of the worlds largest proportions of multiple births. Of every 1000 births there Is about 45-twln birth. It is felt that It was as a result of this large proportion of twin births that the tradition of Ere IbeJl was founded. Ere IbeJl Is a wooden carving which Is said to represent the splrlt of a twln/s that has died. The British explorer Richard Landers gave one of the first documented accounts of the custom of ere ibeji. In April 1830 He wrote in his journal “many women with little wooden figures of children on their heads passed us in the course f the morning”.
Ere means ‘scared image’, Ibi means to be born’ and Eji means two. upon the death of one of the twin or both twins the parent of the dead child would commission an Ere IbeJi. It was said that the Yoruba’s believed in immortality and reincarnation of a soul. Therefore they felt that when a twin died, the life of the living twin was In danger. To counteract this and create unity with the splrlt a IbeJi would be commissioned. It should be noted that when one twin died only one IbeJl would be commissioned, It was only when both twins died that two IbeJl’s would be commissioned.
To commission the carving of an Ere Ibe]i the parents would have to go through a number of set procedures which included consulting as lfa diviner known as babalawo which was essentially a mediator between the spirit world and the living world. Upon their consultation with the babalawo they would be directed to an appointed carver who would be commissioned to create the ere ibJei. The father of the renowned carver Lamlde Fakeye was a carver of ere ‘bell.. Larnldl Fakeye writes of his personal experience as “a son of four generations of Yoruba traditional carvers In Inurln’s compound In lla-orangun. He recounts ” I remember ow happy I was in those days when my father was commissioned to carve an ere ibeji, it always seemed like a festive period. ” The reason for Lamide Fakeye’s joy was because once a carver had been commissioned to create and ere ibeji he would be given many items including food and drink, which would last him for the length of time it took him to create the ibeJi. upon completion of the ibeji the mother and father would celebrate and invite friends and family to come and celebrate the arrival of the Ibeji in their home. The mother would take care of the ibeJi as should would the living child.
She would egular bath It and feed It. In The British explore Richard Landers wrote “whenever the mothers stopped to take refreshments, a small part of the food was Invariably presented to the lips of these Inanimate memorials” lwlns were vlewea as cn 110ren wno Drougnt wealtn ana Joy to tne Tamlly, out It was not always this way. In 1897 Yoruba historian The Revered Samuel Johnson wrote, “the custom of killing twins prevailed all over the country in early times”. An Ifa priest and scholer confirms this further in his analysis of stories regarding IbeJi – “when Eniyan delivered, she had twin babies.
Aruwe shouted with great xclamation that a monster had been born…. she called an Alaaye and said, your affairs are no longer pleasant… you are advised to go and throw them away…. as a result before daybreak Alaaye went and buried the babies. He buried both of them. ” One hypothesis of why the birth of twins was viewed with a dim light was that they were unnatural creatures. It was believed at one time that only animals had multiple births and this was due to their promiscuity – so for a woman to give birth to twins must mean that she had been promiscuous. One account as to the killing of twins came via a historian called T. J.
H Chappel through a study he conducted in 1968. This account stated that in “Oyo it was the practice to kill twins with the help of a knife at the neck for at that time people were distrustful of twins. They could not understand why a woman should given birth to two at the same time when she was neither animal nor goat”. It is not clear when the practice of killing twins came to an end, but due to the accounts given by various historians and explorers such as Richard Landers and Revered Samuel Johnson, that the practice came to an end sometime in the early or iddle 1700 as the cult of the IbeJi started sometime between 1750 and 1851.
As for the reason behind the Yoruba’s change of beliefs in the way twins were viewed, there are many different versions. One such version claims that King Ayaka the brother of Sango – god of thunder put an end to the negative views of twins after his wife gave birth to twins. This version is somewhat endorsed by the fact that IbeJi twins have been found in many Sango shines and in some cases are known as ‘sons of thunder’. Other versions as to the changed viewed point of twins suggest that when parents ere allowed to keep their twins alive, they became wealthy people and therefore people began to believe that twins brought wealth.
People began to believe that twins were a result of normal sexual intercourse but their uniqueness meant that they were a gift from God. The acceptance of twins also brought about the inevitable rise of the ere IbeJi cult. In modern times, ere IbeJi are appreciated for their earthly beauty, the thoughts and emotions they provoke as well as the history they represent. All the photos of the ibeJis above are from the book-IbeJi The Cult Of Yoruba Twins by George Chemeche