Twins in West African Culture

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Are you twins? Who’s older? If I slap you, will your sister feel it? Do you even need a mirror? I mean, can’t you just look at your sister and know exactly how you look? Sister Sister! Double Trouble! I cannot count how many times I have heard these lines. Both annoying and intriguing, I decided I wanted to learn more.

I would like to say that I am fortunate to have a twin sister, though I did not always feel this way. From ages 10-13, we tried so hard to create our own identities that we ended up keeping secrets from one another and sharing them only with our respective friends.

When we asked our parents for something, we often held our breaths anticipating the ever-daunting response: “sure, but you will have to share with your sister”. I mean jeez, I had not asked to be introduced to this world at the same time as someone else, who, to top it off, “looked just like me”!

But as we grew older we realized how fortunate we actually were to have each other. My twin is the only person who knows exactly how I feel without having to so much as look my way. She can read my thoughts or know what I will say without my saying it. She feels my pain as if it were her own. She knows when I am lying and when I am telling the truth. She knows when something is wrong even when we are not in the same place. And guess what I recently learned? If my sister or I had a baby it would be impossible to tell who the mother was!

My twin sister Sarata (left) and I

There are so many myths and beliefs surrounding twins in West African culture that I really wanted to learn more about it. Unfortunately the literature surrounding the topic was not at all what I had expected. Very few pieces have been written about it. I did however, find a few good articles.

Interestingly enough, it seems that twins can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse depending on the culture. Some even say twins have divine powers (um…I have yet to prove that one LOL). I found an interesting essay regarding some practices. In some parts of Nigeria for instance when a twin passes away, they are buried like kings seated on a throne. For the Bali people in Nigeria, parents will put 2 bells in the twins’ room so that if someone walks in the bell will ring and announce they are there so as not to startle the twins and cause the twins to harm them or curse them.

It was really interesting to see how families and societies treat twins in this piece. For the Kpe people of Cameroon for instance, twins are viewed as a burden and people actually hold rituals during pregnancy to prevent them.

There was also an interesting paragraph from an article I came across: “Among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, twins are called ibejis after Ibeji. People believe that, depending on how they are treated, twins can bring either fortune or misfortune to their families and communities. For this reason, twins receive special attention. One myth links the origin of twins with monkeys. According to this story, monkeys destroyed a farmer’s crops, so he began killing all the monkeys he could find. When the farmer’s wife became pregnant, the monkeys sent two spirits into her womb. They were born as the first human twins. To keep these children from dying, the farmer had to stop killing monkeys”. How interesting is that?

I remember my mother always saying that if you give something to one twin you had to give the other something too. Yes, I have used that to my advantage a couple of times ;). What? Is that a Valentine’s Day gift for my sister? I know you have mine somewhere right? Right??

In some parts of the Ivory Coast, twins are also said to be able to stop the rain and are often called upon when there are manifestations or events and the weather turns inclement. In Guinea and in the Ivory Coast, when one twin is getting married, the other is also treated like the bride. You hear that fellas, you are actually getting 2 brides ;).

With all of these beliefs there is only one thing I am sure of, there is definitely a strong bond between twins and there are times when our similarities and connection baffle me but I would not have it any other way! (Not that I had a choice or anything…:)) And though my sister prays she is not the one of us who will have twins (because she thinks being so close to another sibling is a tough thing to handle, what with the possibility of losing your other half), I think it’ll be a blessing! Ha! There you have it! See we are different after all!

So, what do they say about twins in your culture?

Born in New York City, Saran also spent 7 years of her life living in Guinea, Conakry. She has a B.A in International Studies and an MPA (with a focus on Nonprofit Management). She has many years of experience in the fundraising and project management fields having worked for various NGOs. In 2004, Saran founded (along with her twin sister) an organization called Guinée Espoir aimed at bettering the lives of children living in Guinea, West Africa ( Her passion? Helping others.

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