The sign greeting visitors at the entrance to Igbo-Ora in southwest Nigeria welcomes people to a place unlike anywhere on Earth: “Twins capital of the world”. The town boasts of having the highest concentration of multiple births in the world.
The town recently hosted its second festival, attracting hundreds of sets of twins dressed in traditional clothes.
“We feel elated that we are being honoured today,” said Kehinde Durowoju as he hugged his identical brother, Taiwo. “With this event, the whole world will better appreciate the importance of Ibeji [twins] as special children and gifts from God.”
Jimoh Olajide Titiloye, a traditional leader in Igbo-Ora, knows all about this special quirk. “I am a twin, my wife is a twin and I have twins as children,” he said. “There is hardly any household in this town which does not have at least a set of twins.”
Yoruba ruler, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, said the festival “is a celebration of culture and recognition of Ibeji as special children in Yorubaland”. He said the birth of twins “heralds peace, progress, prosperity and good luck to their parents”.
But residents have a theory that the high number of twins is down to the diet of women in the town. “Our people eat ilasa [okra leaf] soup with yam and amala [cassava flour],” said Samuel Adewuyi Adeleye.
Yams are believed to contain gonadotropins that help women to produce multiple eggs. But fertility experts say there is no proven link between diet and the high birth rate.
“It’s a genetic thing,” said Emmanuel Akinyemi, the medical director of Lagos-based Estate Clinic.
“I think the gene for multiple births is in the region and this has been passed on from generation to generation.”
A study in 1972 and 1982 by British gynaecologist Patrick Nylander recorded an average of 45 to 50 sets of twins per 1 000 live births in the region.
But high twinning rates of above 18 per 1 000 births are not restricted to Nigeria and occur in most Central African countries, according to a study (Twinning Across the Developing World) in the journal Population and Development Review (2011). It found that Benin had the highest rate (27.9 per 1 000) in the area. — AFP