Exploring the Twin Phenomenon in Igbo-Ora, Nigeria

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As we arrived in the self-proclaimed “capital of twins” in Nigeria, the small rural town of Igbo-Ora, we were greeted with the news that a woman had just given birth to a healthy pair of twins at the local clinic.

The twins’ mother is a twin herself, and her twin brother was in the ward taking photos of the newborns – his niece and nephew. Surrounding the hospital bed were the babies’ grandmother, who is also a twin, and their great-grandmother, who has given birth to two sets of twins.

“That’s how we do it here. We give birth to twins. It makes our town special,” the five-hour-old twins’ grandmother told us. “It makes us proud and we love them. We love our twins. They bring us success. People are disappointed if they don’t give birth to twins.”

As we walked through the town, it was easy to spot numerous young sets of twins, often dressed in matching outfits. The global average birth rate for twins is around 12 per 1,000 births, but in Igbo-Ora, it is reported to be about 45 per 1,000.

In the Yoruba culture that predominates in this region of southwestern Nigeria, twins are considered a blessing, and their names are predetermined. The older twin is called Taiwo, meaning “the one that tests the world,” while the younger is called Kehinde, meaning “the one that came after.”

When we visited the local high school, we found that these twin names dominated the class rolls. During a morning assembly, we asked a group of around 1,500 students to raise their hands if they were twins or had a twin in their family, and nearly every hand went up.

So what accounts for the high rate of twin births in Igbo-Ora? According to local folklore, the town was founded in the 14th century by an exiled prince of the Oyo Kingdom, who was instructed to make specific offerings to the Yoruba gods in pairs, and in return, the village was blessed with twins.

Many residents also attribute the fertility to a local dish called “ilasa,” made from okra leaves, spices, and other ingredients. Researchers are investigating whether natural chemicals in the local food might stimulate the production of multiple eggs in women.

Professor Akinola Kehinde Akinlabi, the rector of the Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology in Igbo-Ora, believes genetics may play a more significant role. As a twin himself and a father of twins, he notes that being born a twin in this region makes it easier to find a spouse, as twins are “venerated almost as deities who bring good fortune and protection.”

The traditional ruler of Igbo-Ora, known as the Oba, is eagerly awaiting the results of scientific studies on the town’s high twin birth rate. He hopes that Igbo-Ora will soon be officially recognized by Guinness World Records for its phenomenal fertility, as nearly every home in the town has at least one set of twins.

To capitalize on this unique characteristic, the town launched an annual international twin festival several years ago. The festival organizers and local leaders hope that the focus on twins will also lead to investment in the community’s infrastructure, such as upgrading the poorly equipped and aging health centers.

The reverence for twins in Igbo-Ora contrasts sharply with the fear and stigma surrounding twins in some other parts of Nigeria. In the Bassa-Komo community near the capital, Abuja, twins were once seen as evil, and many were allowed to die or were actively killed.

In the 1990s, a Nigerian missionary named Olusola Stevens intervened, rescuing these children and establishing an orphanage called The Vine Heritage Home. Through outreach and education, the orphanage has helped change attitudes, and many in the Bassa-Komo community now keep their twins, though some still hand them over to the orphanage for care.

The story of Igbo-Ora’s twin phenomenon and the Bassa-Komo community’s journey to acceptance highlights the complex and sometimes conflicting cultural attitudes towards twins in different regions of Nigeria. As research continues and awareness grows, the hope is that all twins in Nigeria will be embraced and celebrated as they are in Igbo-Ora

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