What Was the Question Again? Yoruba versus Igbo. Killing Twins versus Not Killing Twins. Was It Merely a Case of Evolving Different Answers to the Same Question?

Article excerpt

In Africa there is a tendency to fixate on received answers, rather than the more important thing - the original question. Take the issue of twin births. In prehistory, two African peoples, living side by side, responded to the puzzle in starkly different ways. Traditionally, the Yoruba venerated twins, seeing them as a blessing, while less than 500 miles away, my people, the Igbo, who equally venerated children, saw the birth of twins as an abomination, and killed them.

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When the British began their conquest at the end of the 19th century and tried to get the Igbo to change their ways, there was a great deal of resistance. The Igbo saw this as an immovable part of their culture. If they changed it, surely the heavens would fall down. Alongside defending their sovereignty, the Igbo defended their "traditional African" culture to carry on killing twins.

The British administration, and more importantly, the adoption of Christianity, led the Igbos by the 1940s to eventually abandon their belief and the practice of killing twins. (Although you can be sure there are still one or two Igbos who continue to believe that all the misfortunes that have since befallen us as a people, are a result of us not carrying on this or that "traditional" practice).

So why did the Igbo resist for so long a phenomenon the Yorubas had evolved a different and more humane answer to? I suspect that both communities were responding to a bigger question that was facing their people in their part of the Niger area - that Is, the prevalence of multiple births. Scientists have now officially recorded that this area produces the highest incidence of natural multiple births in the world. Experts aren't sure but suspect it might be due to diet (yams), or a genetic trait, what is obvious is that our ancestors in this part of Africa grappled with this natural phenomenon and sought answers to it.

For whatever reason in the dim mists of time, the Igbos must have feared multiple births. One can think of many reasons: fear of losing the mother in childbirth. …