OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) – In her dreams, Eveline Zagre thinks that her two pairs of twins share premonitions and make demands on her – buying a chicken, begging for money.
“Their minds will go into your dreams and let you know what they want and then you have to get it for them,” she said.
Despite the burden of following the directions of their dreams, Zagre considers herself doubly blessed. The 30-year-old mother of five is raising 3-year-old twins and 13-year-old twins in Burkina Faso – one of the West African countries where twins are revered for having special powers, like healing sick, ward off danger, bring financial prosperity and predict the future.
The predominantly Muslim country, with its strong cultural embrace of the supernatural, regards twins as the offspring of the spirits and the mothers of twins as specially chosen to bear them. This deeply rooted perception dates back to the days when people couldn’t scientifically explain how twins were conceived. In other parts of West Africa, twins are considered a curse.
“People were afraid of twins because they couldn’t explain… why these children were born two instead of one,” said Honorine Sawadogo, a sociologist at Burkina Faso’s National Center for Scientific and Technological Research.
Parents of twins would turn to wizards who were making rules they felt they had to follow to keep their children and themselves safe, said Sawadogo, who did his doctoral research on mothers of twins. These beliefs and practices persist today despite the established scientific explanation for how twins come into the world.
Zagre and her husband, Ousmane Nikiema, visited a wizard after giving birth to the two pairs of twins. For their boys, the parents were not given any directives. But a wizard told them that their daughters, Victorine and Victoria Nikiema, must beg for money on the side of the road or risk being killed by the spirit of a family member.
“If (the wizard) sees a spirit in the compound, you will have to take the children to beg in order to avoid the curse,” said Nikiema, who lives with her family in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. “(The spirit) may not kill them, but it will do something to them. He can drive them crazy or something similar, or he can cripple them.
All over Ouagadougou, identically dressed mothers and their twins can be seen sitting on mats along the roads and begging. They are driven by dream requests and wizarding instructions, mothers told The Associated Press.
While begging, visitors offer gifts, such as chickens, honey cakes, and seashells, in exchange for blessings.
“I bless people when they come to give us things, I say God heal you if someone comes and is sick,” said Marcelline Tapsoba, the mother of 2-year-old twins.
As they sat on the floor in their usual place on the outskirts of town, Tapsoba and her children were surrounded by other mothers and their twins who begged and also offered blessings.
Tapsoba said those who receive her blessings often return weeks later to thank her for their new romantic or financial success.
Similar scenes take place in Ghana. “If you are giving birth to twins in Ghana, you have to follow the twin rules,” said Kasim Amadu, a businessman. It is believed that wronged and unhappy twins can cause personal harm to parents and others, he said.
Most West African cultures cherish twins and soothsayers believe they can improve their communication with the spirit world through them, said Philip Peek, professor emeritus at Drew University of New Jersey, whose research focuses on African folklore and religion.
Peek, who is the editor of the book “Twins in African and Diaspora Cultures: Double Trouble, Twice Blessed,” said there is a long-held global belief that twins have an increased ability to communicate due to the link which they form in the womb, which allows them to connect to higher powers.
“They communicate intuitively and the ability is certainly recognized in secular terms, not just spiritual,” said Peek.
Not all West African communities embrace them.
Twins are considered bad in some neighborhoods surrounding Nigeria’s capital Abuja, said Stevens Olusola Ajayi, a Christian missionary who rescued 19 pairs of twins lest they be killed. Ajayi, who has been doing this work since 1996, brings the children to live with his family and community. This year, he returned six children to their parents; it is the first time that he has been able to organize such family reunions.
Even in countries where they are viewed favorably, twins can run the risk of being exploited for financial gain. Some mothers borrow children from neighbors and pass them off as twins to earn more money begging, said Sawadogo, the sociologist.
It is not easy to be the parent of twins. In Ouagadougou, Fati Yougma, 27, said her twins would beat her in her dreams if she didn’t obey their requests.
Despite this, Yougma is honored to be their mother.
PA reporter Chinedu Asadu in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
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