Hardly could one get to a household at Igbo Ora, Oyo State, without seeing a set of twins. The indigenes believe that a kind of okra leaves, locally known as ewe ilasa, is capable of making women who use it give birth to twins. Taiwo Abiodun who visited the town writes on this phenomenon
At the mere mentioning of Taiye or Kehinde in the public place could trigger a simultaneous response from more than four people. In other words, the names, being what twins are called (the former for the one who came first and the latter for the one who followed) in Yoruba land, unusually have more than one claimant in this land.
“If you gather about 200 people, 70 per cent of them is likely to be twins,” Taiwo, twin, told The Nation. “I am a twin and my twin brother’s wife is also a twin and she has a set of twins. My younger sister, Idowu, has two set of twins too but I don’t have twins yet. I believe that my new wife will deliver twins by God’s grace,” he said as he thumped his chest.
Chief Isaac Olurinmade Olapegba [JP],73, described the town as a unique town where God blessed the people with twins and triplets, saying “every time our women deliver babies they always give birth to twins and at times triplets. You can go and ask the medical doctors as the record is there for everyone to see. In fact, people from all walks of life do come here for research.”
Elated, the septuagenarian further told The Nation that the signs that the town is blessed with twins are everywhere. “Go to the entrance of the town and to the roundabout where we have the statue of the mother of twins and her babies on her chest and her back. Delivering twin babies is our industry here. We are the ones producing more twins than any other towns in Nigeria, and that is what our study reveals because of the symbolic reason that we prepare okra leaves as soup more than any other soup,” he said.
He noted further that: “There is no man or woman in this town who does not know how to eat okra soup. We cook the leaves called ewe ilasa (ilasa leaves) more of which we consume than any other soup. If you go to the market on market days, you will see how twins’ mothers carry their twin babies and dance around demanding for money. Hardly will you go to any house without seeing at least a set of twins. In fact, you could see three sets of twins in a house. Therefore, if you are calling Taiye, you need to be specific so that we can know whether it is the senior or junior one, or else all of the twins could rush to you to answer. It is a funny thing and we shall soon have twins fill the town. It is God’s gift; it is just blessing we cannot explain. It is incredible.”
In order to convince this reporter of his claim, the old man took him round the town, visiting about 20 houses where they have a set of twins, triplets, or two sets of twins of different age, similar and different sexes. Again, it is not uncommon to hear that a Taiye or a Kehinde is away to Lagos to buy clothes when asked about their whereabouts. The import of this metaphoric journey is simply that the person in question is dead. In some of the houses visited, such euphemistic rendition was not wanting.
A mother of twins simply called Iya Ibeji (a mother of twins) observed that the nursing of twins is quite hectic, especially at infancy. She said, “Feeding the twins and taking care of them is not easy at infancy, but it only gets better when they are growing up. When they become big men and women, say medical doctors or engineers, one can now be proud of them because they have become big men and women – important personalities in the society. Then you will appreciate them as people will envy them and you would have forgotten the stress you have gone through.”
She spoke on the idiosyncrasies of twins: “Their best foods are beans and corn meal. While growing up, they wear the same clothes and put on the same shoes. The fact is that some mothers die while taking care of them because of the rigour of stress and many other things they undergo while the children are very young. Breast-feeding them is a very tasking for the mother. Hardly does the mother have time for herself. Twins always cry at the same time and fall sick again at the same time, or one after another. And the mother has no choice but to take care of them sometimes to the detriment of her health.”
Similarly, Olapegba revealed that twins, according to the town’s traditional belief, are regarded as special creatures and therefore should be treated like gods. Hear him: “We have our own traditional way of taking care of twins. We buy them the same clothes, shoes, bangles, and do same hairstyles for them. We equally treat them like gods and therefore build a shrine for them in the corner of the living room where we use the items like palm oil, tubers of yam, and dry beans (ekuru) for ritual everyday, especially when one of them is sick or dead. When one of the twins dies, an effigy which will serve as a replacement of the deceased is carved and placed in a corner where some rituals are carried out on it everyday so that the living one is not dragged along to the grave.” According to the town’s spokesperson, this is compulsory, for many twins had been snatched by death just because the rituals were neglected.
In the words of Mrs. Kehinde Sakiratu Kehinde, her mother had three sets of twins and also built shrines for them when they were young. However, her twin brother, Taiwo, died recently and she feels his absence daily. In a quavering voice, she said: “Despite the fact we are not identical and of different sex, I still miss him.” Asked whether she has an effigy of her twin brother on which she pours libation or palm oil on so as to prevent him from taking her away to himself, the woman replied to the contrary, saying, “it was practised in the olden days but things have changed now. It is still practised by the illiterates. Not only this, Christianity has taken away all these things and education has changed many things too. But that does not mean some people are not doing it as some still believe in it. It has become personal belief for many. I cannot blame them over this.”
On why some of the twins’ mothers dance round the town, Kehinde said the mothers of these twins should not be blamed, for many are given the conditions by soothsayers or diviners called babalawo. According to her, twins are considered to be strange people who came to the world of their own and it is believed that they have different spirit that goes with them and that is why they cannot be harmed. She added, “Some of these mothers were informed before the children grow up that they must take them out and must dance round the town or market places or else they would die. I know a wealthy woman who is a trader and sells clothing materials in Lagos. But when her baby twins were falling sick everyday, she was instructed by the oracle to go and dance in the market places before they could recover. She refused and was ashamed to go so low and out of shame did not do it. But she would later regret that as one of the living twins fell sick again and was dying. She later went to the market place to dance.”
Mrs Kafaya Olawale, another mother of twins, was met breastfeeding her baby twins. Her twins, she said, are one year and two months old. She equally agreed breastfeeding a set of twins is a hard work to do. “It is not easy my brother,” she moaned pointing to them and adding, “You can imagine how they both cry for breast at the same time. Besides, they cry a lot if they find out that they are wearing different clothes. It’s like they are spirits, for one would cry if she sees her twin sister wearing clothes different from hers. So, you must wear the same clothes for them or else they will keep on crying and this could lead to sickness for them.”
To Kafaya, the claim that the eating of some special okra leaves also aide the birthing of twins in this town is not a myth. “Yes, it is true. If you want to have baby twins, just go for ilasa leaves. That is the way one can have twins. The leaves are cooked as soup and before you know it you will be pregnant with twins.”
When this reporter got to the market and requested ilasa leaves, the sellers all laughed and asked him whether his wife is aiming to have twins. The surprising thing is that most of the sellers are called Iya Ibeji. Displaying the leaves, one of the women, a mother of twins, declared: “I have three sets of twin and this ilasa leaf is the secret behind it here in this town, nothing else. That is our own industry here and people come here to ask for it even from overseas they do demand for it and take it out.”
Apart from being known for having twins, Igbo Ora is also known to be the sixth largest charcoal-producing town in Oyo State. Igbo Ora derived its name, according to an octogenarian, from verbal challenge posed to a friend. According to him, there were two friends; one lived in the town while the other lived in the forest. The latter occasionally did come to town to pass time there with his friend. He got so used to this that sometime he would not feel like going home. One day, his town-dweller friend asked him to go to the forest he bought (igbo o ra). Ever since, the saying became a household name with which the town is identified.. Those are the boldly written words that a first time visitor to the ancient town of Igbo Ora is bound to see as they course through its main entrance. A little further into the town at the roundabout is a sculpture of a woman, a mother of twins with a baby strapped to her back and another on her chest with a girdle, while the twins raised up their hands in an ecstasy of jubilation.