Oriki Ibeji: Eulogy for Twins in Yorubaland

The Yoruba are one of Nigeria’s most important ethnic groups, and mainly occupy the Southwestern region of Nigeria. Due to genetic reasons, this very large tribe happens to record the highest dizygotic twinning rate in the world (4.4% of all maternities).

The high perinatal death rate associated with such pregnancies has led to the integration of a special twin belief system within the African traditional religion of this tribe. This belief system is premised on the concept of a supreme deity known as Olodumare or Olorun, assisted by a series of secondary gods or demi-gods (Orisha); while Yoruba religion also involves immortality and reincarnation of the soul based on the animistic cult of its ancestors.

Twins are therefore given special names and believed to possess supernatural powers. In keeping with their refined tradition, the Yoruba have produced numerous wooden statuettes that depict the souls of deceased newborn twins and are involved in elaborate rituals.  If one twin should die, it represents bad fortune for the parents and for the society in which they reside.

 

The parents, therefore, commission a herbalist (babalawo) to carve a wooden ibeji to represent the deceased twin, and the parents take care of the figure as if it were alive. Other than the sex, the appearance of the ibeji is determined by the sculptor. The parents then dress and decorate the ibeji to represent their own status, using clothing made from cowrie shells, as well as beads, coins, and paint.

oriki ibeji

The firstborn of the twins is referred to as Taiwo or Taiye, while the second is called Kehinde. In Yoruba culture, the second twin is regarded as the elder twin; the reason for this is that Taiwo is first sent by Kehinde to determine if the world is fit to live in and beautiful before he/she makes an entrance into the world. Ewa ibeji (a specially prepared beans dish made with palm oil) is believed to be twins’ favourite meal.

Oriki Ibeji (eulogy for twins in Yorubaland)

Ejire ara Isokun

Edun A gbori igi regerege

Winino winini loju orogun

Eji owuro loju iya re

O be kisi be kese

O be sile elekisa

O so o dalaso

Okan mo ni n o bi

Eji lo wole to mi

Bu mi kin ba o rele

Yin mi ki n pada leyin re

Nijo ejire ti daye ko jale ri

Oju oloko ni se je tie

Mo lepo nile

Mo lewa loode

Ejire eelaki maabo lodo mi

Ireke mi ree

Mo fe bo ibeji oro

Oniruuru omo lo nbe laye

Ninu omo to je abami

La gbe ri ibeji laarin won

Eni ejire nwuu bi

Ki o yaa niwa tutu

Tori pe osonu ile ko bi ejire

Oninuure ni bedun

Ejire okin maa so mi lokun lona ofun

Iya onikaluku won o so kale

Won abimo won okan soso pere

Eni oninuure l’Olorun oba nfun lore

Eyin ko mo pe ore lejire ara Isokun

Iyawo mi lejo

Emi naa le sodi wuke

Ejire oriyaki ma abo lodo wa

Atike atige laa fi sike ibeji

Atowo atiyi lejire fii sike eni

Oga lejire oriyaki laarin awon omo to nbe laye gbogbo.

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