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Memories of Ibeji: Were Twins Killed in Early Yoruba Land??

I was asked if Yorubas actually used to kill twins in time past? As others in many tribes before Mary sclessor in Calabar and that, were they offered as sacrifices to Eshu? And many people commented and Said No oo, lai lai… In fact they were Oshas sef..  A sister, Ibrahim Fatima Adesola tagged me.

Okay.  These are the facts from concrete verifiable researches.

  1. Yes, there is a report on twins banishing, in what is called “twins Infanticide” in old Oyo then during the reign of Alafain Ajaka. In fact, Johnson account of Ondo town says Pupuru, founder of an Alaafin (another account said she’s one of Oduduwa’s wives) had twins had twins and the king was terribly disturbed that what kind of child birth is this? This ones no be children oo.  “E’ se omo re” – which was corrupted to Osemawe of Ondo.  I feel E se Omo re is less of Oyo language though, more of Ife lang.  

Well, the poor queen was exiled with the twins with many entourage, through Ife to a place called Epe and Ita-ijamo where they stayed for a while till they met an hunter from Idoko & Oka  side who welcomed the strange Queen.  Hence Idoko were Ondo aborigines but pupuru became the first Osemawe. 

2. Yoruba towns in the early centuries as 17th & 18th, when issues of killing started were scattered and are not generally called Yorubas with different cultural beliefs from one town to another, but it is believed the practice was common in Old Oyo and Alaafin’s domains by rule, so it may not be same everywhere, especially in places where Oyo rulings were resisted. In places like Ekiti for example, with resistance to Oyo rule, there were accounts of them having twins and keeping them to spy Ajaka and they do away with few twins. 

3. The birth of twins was surprising when the first sets came, and hence were seen as bad omen, and many consulted IFA on what to do with them.  Generally twins were not common until certain periods. Only animals like goats, dogs etc were reputed for multiple births. So most towns never had twins until the days of Alaafin Ajaka..

4. Twins story changed until an Oyo family gave birth to twin in a settlement town in Port novo outside Oyo territory then, and consulted IFA and was asked to keep them. But the mother must dance around market with them.

She did as ordered, and she was given lots of Money, clothes and many other gifts instead of shame & ridicule she envisaged. 

Killing of twins Ibeji in Yoruba towns

The twins made the family rich and the town was called Isokun “first Ibeji settlement town”. Hence the saying of “Ejire ara Isokun” and one who made the poor to become very rich – “Obekisa sile alakisa so alakisa donigba aso”

The news of how twins made their parents rich spread to many towns including the Alaafin himself who ordered that henceforth twins should be celebrated and admired, and led to Odun Ibeji and OSHA Ibeji – the twin cults.  This marked the era of glorification of twins as special kids and idols carving for twins became prominent among sculptors where parents kowtow to them. Hence they were called “Omo to n gba Idobale Baba ati Iya”.

Killing twins in Yoruba land.

In fact when one dies, there is a spirit to keep one alive through the carved woods as twins or ère Ìbejì. Again due to low birth weight at child birth, many die before their naming ceremonies, so it was believed that they carried a deity from heaven to earth and must be appeased before they stay, and this must be constantly done, otherwise one of them or both will die, hence why Odun Ibeji is still in practice in many Yoruba towns. Read more about Ere Ibeji here.

Again, The first parents of the first spared twins in Oyo also had another child christened “Idowu” as named after the twins.  According to oral traditions, Alaafin Ajaka requested that the third child should be brought to the palace from port novo as he is interested to look after him.  And people started calling the boy – Eshu leyin Ibeji.

5. There was no reported evidence that Ibejis (twins) were appeased to Eshu in Yoruba lands or were sacrificed to other gods, even though there were terms and reports of Infanticide in Old Oyo, with many sent out with their mothers, one of them either killed or both thrown away because of fear of the strangeness but not to appease gods.

Read also| The Nigerian Medical History: See the first Muslim doctor in Nigeria.


  1. Yoruba Cult & Twins in African in African Perspectives by T.T Chappel
  2. The History Of Ondo People
  3. Twins in Africa & Diasporas: Double trouble twice blessed

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One comment

  1. It’s a good read. However, I’m very curious to know beyond this, particularly on the origin and practice of Ìbejì’s food such as adùn, ẹwà, ekuru and others. Can you direct me to where to get your references. And if your sources are in pdf, please send them to my email below.

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