By Onukwube Ofoelue/Sun News Publishing
In the past and present, Arochukwu is a town synonymous with civilization, prosperity and valour. In the Igbo heartland where it is located ,the town prospered by ruling the market of the entire Igboland .The influence of the place stretched to the present Niger-Delta and Southern Cameroon.
But Arochukwu was also identified with pain and sorrow- the pain of families who were swindled and sold into slavery through Arochukwu merchants.The town inflicted itself with the burden and superstition that twins were evil, and must never be allowed to live. This gospel of doom was preached among the people that interacted with Igbos- Niger Delta and Cameroons . Like the Aros, most of their neighbours believed that Chukwu-Ibinukpabi, the supreme God abhorred twins.
With this erroneous assumption, twin babies were seen as abomination and even killed.
Parents who stubbornly held to their twins were reduced to worthless outcasts and subsequently sent into exile, if they refused to get rid of them. The society and their immediate family ostracized them.
From the moment of the abhorrent birth,the unlucky parents of twins were usually given a wide berth by friends and relations . The normal celebration of the arrival of new babies were usually low-key, mournful and muffled when twins were born.
To the people then, twin birth was a mystery: how can a human being give birth to more than one baby ? As they conjectured, only lower animals like dogs, goats, cats and chickens have multiple births. And so, the mothers of twins were an aberration. They were treated as cursed, debased beings. However, with the coming of Mary Slessor, the killing of twins was stopped. But did that really stop the rejection of twins? No.
A young man, Elisha Nwangwu, a native of Arochukwu told Sunday Sun that as a twin living in Arochukwu about 15 years ago, he and his family, which included his twin brother Elijah suffered discrimination among their people.
Elisha and Elijah Nwangwu are twin brothers. They had never gone to their hometown, Arochukwu before. At 15, almost adults, they were to visit their ancestral home for the first time. They were excited. They could hardly wait to get there and meet the enthusiastic relatives who would welcome them home. Both wondered what these relatives would look like, who they were and how they were going to receive them.
On December 21 1992, their eldest brother, Okooro had employed the services of a chartered bus which took them all the way along with their mother and siblings. But little did they expect the hostility they met right in the ancestral home they had hoped and dreamt about all their lives.
The family was shocked at the way they were snubbed by almost everyone, and the feigned smiles and salutations they received. Elisha instantly wished they had not come. Unlike the people of Agbani, Enugu State where they had resided, who were very warm and friendly, the Aro people, their own people were the most unfriendly people they had ever met. But that was just the beginning.
They were later to learn that a family like theirs was regarded with suspicion and were rejected, just because of the twins. Although not reduced to the status of ohus, people whose ancestors were slaves, a man whose wife has given birth to twins was still regarded as an outcast, and the whole family blacklisted. The stigma persisted. The only difference was that they were not killed but superstition against them was still strong that they were harbingers of evil and bad luck.
‘How can anybody bear more than one child? Are they animals?’, many asked. Although Elisha’s family of the amadis- freeborns, the stigma was still there. “Nobody said anything against you, but it was written on their faces, and spelt out in their behaviour towards you. You were a reject, no matter what you did. And so was your whole family”, Elisha told Sunday Sun.
“They made life miserable for us”, Elisha recalled. He went on to narrate the ordeals his family passed through just because of his twin brother and himself. Elisha and his brother Elijah had learnt in school that it was in his hometown that the famous Mary Slessor fought against the practice and abolished the killing of twins. Old as it was, they had grown up to believe that the tradition died in the distant past along with all of its trappings.
“We went through the pains of stigmatism. Luckily for us, we were not interested in certain traditional practices , we would have been prevented from participating. But the people, especially the men avoided us. They would not answer our greetings, or answered with a grunt. They would not accept anything from our hands, and would not give us anything. In short, the hatred was too glaring. It was believed that twins were signs of bad luck and whoever accepted them accepted evil luck.”
Mary Slessor weeps
It was during those days that their mother had told them the pathetic story of their aunt, an incident that happened in the 60s. Auntie Roseline had gotten married as a teenager to a man from Arochukwu, their hometown. During her first conception, she had given birth to twin boys. She never saw those boys as they were stolen away from her in the dead of the night while she was still weak from labour and probably murdered. As soon as her family heard, they had come forward and taken her away from the marriage.
Unfortunately, she never was able to conceive again after that time. “Today, she is old and childless. The ones God had given her were murdered by a man who is supposed to protect her under the name of that cursed tradition”, Elijah added bitterly.
“My own mother must have had a similar experience”, Elisha observed. “She used to tell us that her first birth was to twins, but that they died, then they had left Arochukwu and refused to return. What she never said was how they died. Looking back, I am beginning to think they were probably killed, and that probably is why my father had kept away from Arochukwu all his life”.
Superstition and evil practices
First, they had been told that there was no accommodation for them in the family house and were forced to go outside and rent a place. But they noticed that most of the adult males avoided them, the twins particularly. Where their siblings were tolerated, they were shunned. Elisha recalled an incident in which they had gone on the yearly fishing expedition with some men. They were divided into groups but were rejected by the leader of the group they were to belong, a man involved heavily in traditional fetish practices.
There was a law barring any father of twins from participating in certain ceremonies and some of their rights were taken away from them at the event of the birth of twins into the family. In order to avoid being excluded, some narrow-minded men drove their wives away from matrimony. It was said that some even went as far as secretly eliminating one of the kids and claiming that they had given birth to a single child.
A twist of fate
A particular man, Okorocha Chime had had a very strong hatred for the duo, Elisha and Elijah, probably because he held a very exalted position in the village. So, he kept the boys at bay even though they were next-door neighbours. His wife on the other hand, loved the boys and in the event of one year, she too was visited by the god of twins and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Despite his position in the village, Okorocha Chime was subsequently banned from participating in those benefits and he went home to lick his wounds. He began to accept the kids and before long, became very fond of the boys.
Reacting to the story, Mazi Rambo Ofo, a Paris-based businessman of Aro extraction who is also a twin maintained that he also passed through the same experience in his days in Arochukwu. He explained that twins could not go to Chukwu, the supreme deity whose oracle is in Arochukwu, and could not appear at the ulo-nta ceremony, the stool of the ancient Aro kindred where only true sons of Aro are can attend. “They were regarded as work of the devil as God created only one man and one woman at a time.
So, it is regarded as an anomaly and work of the devil. Their presence in any traditional setting rendered any dibia blind and every invocation null. They could not be accepted as leaders.” He said that twins were killed in the past and thrown into the evil forest so that their spirits would not reincarnate back to the village. “But things had changed. They only discriminated against us. My twin brother and I were treated as sub -humans.”
When contacted, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, a prominent son of Arochukwu said that such practices, both the killing and the discrimination were of the past. In his words, “Such discrimination against twins does no more exist any more in Arochukwu. They have been abolished. If they exist at all -in fact, they only exist in people’s imagination.
On his part, the secretary-general of Nzuko Arochukwu (Worldwide), Mazi Ani Onwumere told Sunday Sun that twins in the place were truly stigmatized in the past. He , however added that to be fully re-admitted in the community, the parents of twins and their twins usually had to undergo certain rites of cleansing to be accepted back into the fold. Once those rites were performed, they were as good as anybody. They can participate in whatever is going on in the community and can even go for the annual ulo-nta meeting. He cited the case of his uncle, Mazi Joseph Okereke Ukwerenyi, the eze-ogo designate of Amangwu Village, Arochukwu.
“His twins are 14 years old this year but he is not denied any traditional benefits he is due. During this year’s Ikeji Festival in September, he will be crowned the eze-ogo. If there was still discrimination, he wouldn’t have been chosen. The eze-ogo is the highest office in the village. What he did was to pass through that traditional cleansing”.