The orisha Ibeji is the protector of twins in Yoruba mythology. In Yoruba culture, ibeji are also carved wooden figures made to house the soul of a dead twin. These wooden figures, six to ten inches high and carved with the family mask, are tended as if they were alive. The Yoruba people believe that this care and tending keeps the soul in this world and ensures the survival of the other twin.They are represented with Saints Cosmas and Damian.
While the birth rate of monozygotic twins is relatively constant worldwide, about 4 per 1000 births, that rate for dizygotic twins varies widely. The incidence of dizygotic twin births in much of Africa is significantly greater than in the United States, with the highest incidence among the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria, with a frequency of 45 per 1000 births. The corresponding rate in the United States is approximately 8 per 1000 births.
This high rate of twin births, and the high infant mortality rate, may have contributed to the emergence of a twin cult, and among the Yoruba a tradition of sculpture for twins originated.
When twins are born, the parents go to the babalawo [diviner] to find out their wishes. The first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Omotayelolu ("the child came to taste life excels") or shortened to Taye or Taiwo, while the second is referred to as Omokehinde ("the child came last") or shortened to Kehinde or Kenny.
It is believed that Kehinde sent Tayelolu to check out what life is on earth and to tell him whether it is good. Therefore, Tayelolu goes as sent by Kehinde, and becomes the first child to be born. He then communicates to Kehinde spiritually (believed to be from the way he cries) whether life is going to be good or not. The reply determines if Kehinde will be born alive or be stillborn. Both return to where they came from (Underworld) if the reply from Tayelolu is not good enough for them.
The Yoruba believe that Kenny is the eldest of the twins despite being the last to be born, because he sent Tayelolu on an errand, a prerogative of one's elders in Yorubaland. Kehinde is therefore referred to as Omokehindegbegbon ("The child came last gets the eldest"). The belief is linked to accounts of the biblical Jacob and Esau. Esau is frequently shown being supplanted by his craftier younger twin, Jacob. For example, Genesis 25:29-34 shows Esau willingly and foolishly selling his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a "mess of pottage" (meal of lentils).
Since in Yoruba tradition, each person is one soul in the long line of ancestral souls, twins are complex, sharing the same soul - but one of the two is the spiritual and one the mortal soul. Since there is no way to determine which has the mortal and which the spiritual, if one twin should die, a carving is commissioned to represent the deceased child. Only the sex and the lineal facial scarifications are specified and are faithfully recreated in the carved figure. Tayelolu is believed to be mostly the quiet, calmer, and introverted of the twins, while Omokehinde is mostly believed to be the extroverted soul.
In the religious tradition of the Afro-Brazilian Candomble, Ogum (as this Yoruba divinity is known in the Portuguese language) is often identified with Saint George, for example in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, Ogun may also be represented by Saint Sebastian, as it is often done in the northeast of the country, for example in the state of Bahia. more
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