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1 Status of Twins in Yorb and Haitian Society and Religion Emily Hanson, University of Florida The existence of twins has provoked curiosity and interest across numerous societies and cultures. From the twin Greek gods Artemis and Apollo, to the Old Testament twin brothers Jacob and Esau, it often falls to religion to explain the twin s relationship to each other and the rest of society A mong African religions, this expla nation has varied throughout different periods and continues to be a focus in rituals today. Haitian Vo dou is a cultural descendant of many traditional African societies, including the Dahomian and Yorb people s This paper will examine beliefs about tw ins in Yorb and Haitian society and religion I have juxtaposed these societies to demonstrate how traditional African beliefs have evolved both within Africa and upon transport to the New World. Acknowledgement of the continued influence of African cul ture o n the Caribbean culture is important for placing Caribbean traditions in their appropriate context. The status of twins is a good demonstration of this enduring connection as Haitian, Yorb and Fon societies share a similar appreciation for twins. A cademics have characterized Yorb enthusiasm for twins as a cult of t wins and Vodouists consider twins a sacred gift Comparison of the ritual and mythology surrounding twins in both societies reveals the role of Yorb traditions i n modern Haitian Vodou. The Yorb are one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Nigeria, with a population of about 20 million people residing in the Southw est (Yoruba, 2012) During the forced removal of African slaves and th eir subsequent dispersion, the culture and religion of the Yorb people spread to regions of South America and the Caribbean. This influence, while strong in Cuban Santeria, is also visible in Haitian Vodou (Fandrich 2007: 775 776) Nago is an identification used by slave traders to denote slaves from the Yorb region of Africa and the Nago family of spirits derives from the Yorb (He bblethwaite 2012: 269 ) The perception of twins in Yorb society has vacillated across time from hatred an d prohibition to adulation. While most information about this shift comes from oral histories, the general account begins with an ancient prohibition in the Yorb region of Oy o against twins that resulted in the common practice of infantici de, most frequ ently by exposure to the elements (Renne 2001: 64). In the neighboring kingdom on Dahomey a once rising economic and political power, the community gave gifts to the parents of twin s, which eventually made them very rich. Yorb immigrants to Dahomey gai ned exposure to this belief in the luck of twins and subsequent economic benefit s for the parents (Chappel 1974: 252 253) Gradually, the Dahomian twin traditions spread the prohibition against the birth of twins ended, and the cult of twins developed. This shift likely occurred betwe en 16 50 and 180 0, a peak time for the Atlantic Slave trade when Yorb people brought their beliefs and traditions to Haiti and Cuba (Chappel 1974: 256) Many academic fields study Yor b beliefs about twins because the Yor b people possess the highest birthrate of fraternal twins in the world (Leroy 2002: 132) According to Yor b mythology twins share a soul and the death of one twin greatly endangers the other; as a result the care o f twins requires a great deal of attention (Leroy 2002: 134 ) It is widely believed that having twins will bring a family happiness and good fortune; however, the mercurial nature of twins can cause a family great strife. This power ful dichotomy results in leniency with twins and the displays of great reverence and respect for twins There are a complex set of rituals observed upon the birth of twins and throughout their lifecycle. These ceremonies include the naming ceremony, which o ccurs seven days after birth.

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2 During the naming ceremony, twins are dressed in matching clothes, and all of the twins in the community and their fam ilies are invited (Renne 2001: 68 69 ) Twin ceremonies, like Vodou ceremonies, require certain foods and clo thes. The twins will also be dedicated to the god, Orisha, who will provide special protection. (Leroy 2002: 134 ) Twins marry on the same day, and at the ceremony they wear the same clothes and eat the same foods. All of these rituals serve the purpose of emphasizing the s hared soul of twins (Renne 2001: 68 69). Similarly, in Haitian Vodou twins possess a special relationship with the divine. The Marasa, or Divine Twins, are lwa connected with human twins and more broadly children (Brown 1991: 405) In Vodou ceremonies, practitioners summon Papa Legba, followed by the Marasa, Loko and Ayizan (Clark 2009: 12). The Marasa are volatile and demanding lwa to serve, as twin children are difficult to par ent. However, Vodouists feel that twin children, whil e difficult to care for will bring luck and good fortune, in the same way that serving the temperamental Marasa can confer great benefit. The vv, or mystical diagram, that represents the Marasa has three distinct parts. Worship and rituals for the Mar asa often involve g roupings of three, despite them being divine twins. The ritual importance of groups of three may relate to the special status given to a child born after a set of twins. This child, called a dossu if male, or a dossa, if female, complet es the trio of the Marasa (Clark 2009: 12). An example of a Marasa ritual is the plat Marasa in which the parents of twins offer food to the Marasa in a wooden bowl separated into three parts (Hebblethwaite 2012: 279). The similar status enjoyed by twins in traditional Yorb religion and Haitian Vodou is an indicator of their shared heritage. Upon t heir transport to Haiti, Yorb slaves integrated their religious practices with those of slaves from other areas in Africa. The resulting religion, Vodou, possesses a vast pantheon of spirits that is representative of its complex heritage. Yorb influence is apparent in some of the names of the lwa in Haitian Vodou and in their admiration for twins. The cult of twins that is so well documented amongst the Yorb people clearly links with the veneration of twins in Ha iti. Tracing the roots of Haitian Vodou to their origin s in Africa illuminates the influence of a continent often neglected.

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3 Works Cited Brown, K. M.. (1991). Mama Lola: a vodou priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; London: University of California Press. Chappel, T. J. H. (1974). The Yoruba Cult of Twins in Historical Perspective. Article in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 250 265 Clark, V. A. (2009). Developing Diaspora Literacy and Marasa Consciousness. Article in Theatre Survey The Journal of the American Society for Theatre Research Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 9 18 Fandrich, I. J. (2007). Yorb Influences on Haitian Vodou and New O rleans Voodoo. Article in Journal of Black Studies Vol. 37, No. 5 pp. 775 791 Hebblethwaite, B., & Bartley, J. (2012). Vodou songs in Haitian Creole and English chante Vodou an kreyl ayisyen ak angle Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Leroy, F., Olaleye Oruene, T., Koeppen Schomerus, G., & Bryan, E. (2002). Yoruba Customs and Beliefs Pertaining to Twins. Article in Twin Research Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 132 136 Renne, E. P. (2001). Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Article in Ethnology Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 63 78 Yoruba. (2012). In Encyclopdia Britannica Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/EBchecked/topic/653789/Yoruba


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Title: Status of Twins in Yorùbá and Haitian Society and Religion, Emily Hanson
Series Title: HAI3930, ANT3930, LAS3930, REL3938
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Creator: Raitano, Megan
Publisher: Hebblethwaite, Benjamin
Raitano, Megan
Felima, Crystal
Place of Publication: University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
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Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Megan Raitano.
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General Note: This is a collection of student essays from the Haitian Vodou class offered at the Universtiy of Florida. These essays are the results of a combination of in class material and independent research on individually chosen topics. The writing styles, citation styles, and views expressed in the essays are established by the students and do not necessarily reflect those of the professor or the Archive.
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Status of Twins in Yoruba and Haitian Society and Religion
Emily Hanson, University of Florida

The existence of twins has provoked curiosity and interest across numerous societies and
cultures. From the twin Greek gods Artemis and Apollo, to the Old Testament twin brothers
Jacob and Esau, it often falls to religion to explain the twins relationship to each other and the
rest of society. Among African religions, this explanation has varied throughout different
periods, and continues to be a focus in rituals today. Haitian Vodou is a cultural descendant of
many traditional African societies, including the Dahomian and Yoruba peoples. This paper will
examine beliefs about twins in Yoruba and Haitian society and religion. I have juxtaposed these
societies to demonstrate how traditional African beliefs have evolved both within Africa and
upon transport to the New World. Acknowledgement of the continued influence of African
culture on the Caribbean culture is important for placing Caribbean traditions in their appropriate
context. The status of twins is a good demonstration of this enduring connection, as Haitian,
Yoruba, and Fon societies share a similar appreciation for twins. Academics have characterized
Yoruba enthusiasm for twins as a "cult of twins," and Vodouists consider twins a sacred gift.
Comparison of the ritual and mythology surrounding twins in both societies reveals the role of
Yoruba traditions in modern Haitian Vodou.
The Yoruba are one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Nigeria, with a population of
about 20 million people residing in the Southwest (Yoruba, 2012). During the forced removal of
African slaves and their subsequent dispersion, the culture and religion of the Yoruba people
spread to regions of South America and the Caribbean. This influence, while strong in Cuban
Santeria, is also visible in Haitian Vodou (Fandrich 2007: 775-776). Nago is an identification
used by slave traders to denote slaves from the Yoruba region of Africa and the Nago family of
spirits derives from the Yoruba (Hebblethwaite 2012: 269).
The perception of twins in Yoruba society has vacillated across time from hatred and
prohibition to adulation. While most information about this shift comes from oral histories, the
general account begins with an ancient prohibition in the Yoruba region of Oyo against twins
that resulted in the common practice of infanticide, most frequently by exposure to the elements
(Renne 2001: 64). In the neighboring kingdom on Dahomey, a once rising economic and
political power, the community gave gifts to the parents of twins, which eventually made them
very rich. Yoruba immigrants to Dahomey gained exposure to this belief in the luck of twins and
subsequent economic benefits for the parents (Chappel 1974: 252-253). Gradually, the
Dahomian twin traditions spread, the prohibition against the birth of twins ended, and the "cult
of twins" developed. This shift likely occurred between 1650 and 1800, a peak time for the
Atlantic Slave trade, when Yoruba people brought their beliefs and traditions to Haiti and Cuba
(Chappel 1974: 256).
Many academic fields study Yoruba beliefs about twins because the Yorubi people
possess the highest birthrate of fraternal twins in the world (Leroy 2002: 132). According to
Yorubi mythology, twins share a soul and the death of one twin greatly endangers the other; as a
result, the care of twins requires a great deal of attention (Leroy 2002: 134). It is widely believed
that having twins will bring a family happiness and good fortune; however, the mercurial nature
of twins can cause a family great strife. This powerful dichotomy results in leniency with twins
and the displays of great reverence and respect for twins.
There are a complex set of rituals observed upon the birth of twins and throughout their
lifecycle. These ceremonies include the naming ceremony, which occurs seven days after birth.









During the naming ceremony, twins are dressed in matching clothes, and all of the twins in the
community and their families are invited (Renne 2001: 68-69). Twin ceremonies, like Vodou
ceremonies, require certain foods and clothes. The twins will also be dedicated to the god,
Orisha, who will provide special protection. (Leroy 2002: 134) Twins marry on the same day,
and at the ceremony they wear the same clothes and eat the same foods. All of these rituals serve
the purpose of emphasizing the shared soul of twins (Renne 2001: 68-69).
Similarly, in Haitian Vodou twins possess a special relationship with the divine. The
Marasa, or Divine Twins, are Iwa connected with human twins and more broadly children
(Brown 1991: 405). In Vodou ceremonies, practitioners summon Papa Legba, followed by the
Marasa, Loko, and Ayizan (Clark 2009: 12). The Marasa are volatile and demanding Iwa to
serve, as twin children are difficult to parent. However, Vodouists feel that twin children, while
difficult to care for, will bring luck and good fortune, in the same way that serving the
temperamental Marasa can confer great benefit.
The veve, or mystical diagram, that represents the Marasa has three distinct parts.
Worship and rituals for the Marasa often involve groupings of three, despite them being divine
twins. The ritual importance of groups of three may relate to the special status given to a child
born after a set of twins. This child, called a dossu, if male, or a dossa, if female, completes the
trio of the Marasa (Clark 2009: 12). An example of a Marasa ritual is the plat Marasa, in which
the parents of twins offer food to the Marasa in a wooden bowl separated into three parts
(Hebblethwaite 2012: 279).
The similar status enjoyed by twins in traditional Yoruba religion and Haitian Vodou is
an indicator of their shared heritage. Upon their transport to Haiti, Yoruba slaves integrated their
religious practices with those of slaves from other areas in Africa. The resulting religion, Vodou,
possesses a vast pantheon of spirits that is representative of its complex heritage. Yoruba
influence is apparent in some of the names of the lwa in Haitian Vodou and in their admiration
for twins. The "cult of twins" that is so well documented amongst the Yoruba people clearly
links with the veneration of twins in Haiti. Tracing the roots of Haitian Vodou to their origins in
Africa illuminates the influence of a continent often neglected.









Works Cited


Brown, K. M.. (1991). Mama Lola: a vodoupriestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles,
Calif; London: University of California Press.

Chappel, T. J. H. (1974). The Yoruba Cult of Twins in Historical Perspective. Article in Africa:
Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 250-265

Clark, V. A. (2009). Developing Diaspora Literacy and Marasa Consciousness. Article in
Theatre Survey The Journal of the American Society for Theatre Research, Vol. 50, No. 1,
pp. 9-18

Fandrich, I. J. (2007). Yoruba Influences on Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo. Article in
Journal ofBlack Studies, Vol. 37, No. 5, pp. 775-791

Hebblethwaite, B., & Bartley, J. (2012). Vodou songs in Haitian Creole and English chante
Vodou an krey6l ayisyen ak angle. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Leroy, F., Olaleye-Oruene, T., Koeppen-Schomerus, G., & Bryan, E. (2002). Yoruba Customs
and Beliefs Pertaining to Twins. Article in Twin Research, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 132-136

Renne, E. P. (2001). Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Article in Ethnology, Vol. 40, No. 1, pp.
63-78

Yoruba. (2012). In Encyclopcedia Britannica. Retrieved from
http://www.britannica.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/EBchecked/topic/653789/Yoruba