Welcome to the tracks of my tears. The first two shots were taken as I paused on the railroad tracks before heading down to an early morning session at Four Mile Beach. Photos three and four were taken as I drove around on the west side of Santa Cruz at sunset time. For our last two photo entries we return to the lovely confines of Four Mile Beach. As I was leaving the sand I saw these three young women in wetsuits hurrying down the path just beyond the railroad tracks. The woman in the last shot wasn’t in quite as much of a hurry. I love it when people ask me, “How far up the coast is Four Mile?”
So here’s our story for a Wednesday. Igbo-Ora, a sleepy farming community in southwest Nigeria, welcomes visitors with a sign proclaiming “The Land of Twins.” And all this time I thought it was Minnesota. According to community leader Olayide Akinyemi, whose father had 10 sets of twins, “There is hardly a family here without a set of twins.” Those Doublemint sisters wouldn’t have even been on the radar here.
The town’s high incidence of twins has baffled fertility experts and clothing designers, as overall, almost 5 percent of all births in this Yoruba community are twins. The rate throughout the world is about 0.5 percent of all births. It’s the old buy one birth, get one free syndrome.
Yam consumption may be one explanation for this phenomenon as yams contain a natural hormone phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to produce an egg on each side. I wonder what the marshmallow stimulates? In this part of the world, twins are regarded as a special gift from God and bearers of good luck. In sub-Sahara Africa, twins are believed to possess one soul between them which accounts for a whole series of macabre rituals that are often country specific.
If a twin dies in a Yoruba family, the parents order a wooden figure called an “ibeji” to be carved to take the place of the deceased twin. The half soul of the deceased twin is thought to live on in the ibeji figure-which is clothed, “fed” and carried by a mother exactly in the same way as the living twin.
When a twin dies in South Africa, the surviving twin is made to lie face down on his sibling’s coffin the night before the burial, to mourn his passing and say goodbye properly. Another variant has the surviving twin being made to lie face up in the freshly dug grave the day before his sibling his buried. If not, communities fear the surviving twin will pine so much for his deceased sibling that he will also die.
Anthropologists say these elaborate rituals go back the days when the perinatal mortality was very high for twins. In pre-colonial times some communities used to do away with twins and occasionally their mothers, believing a double birth was an evil portent and the mother must have been with two men to bear two children at once. A Scottish missionary is credited with ending this practice and being the inventor of tape.
Speaking of twins, John and William Reiff, once recognized by the Guiness World Records as the world’s most identical twins, left most of their $5 million estate to the Twins Day Festival that’s held each year in Twinsburg, Ohio. The Reiffs, who attended their first Twins Day Festival in the late 1970′s, always dressed alike, talked alike and enjoyed dating other twins. According to their neighbor John Bechtel, “They were just a couple of old farmers from Pennsylvania who you would not think had two cents to rub together.”
The Annual Twins Day Festival attracts 3,000 sets of twins, triplets and quadruplets and features contests such as those for the most alike, the least alike and the most annoying twins. Over the years, it has also attracted scientists interested in genetic research and dating twin sisters.
Between trips to Twinsburg and other twin events, the Reiffs lived frugally on the 154-acre farm that had been in their family for three generations. Before his in 2005, John Reiff cut a deal with a development group that planned to use the farm, a rare piece of undeveloped land near Philadelphia, for open housing and batting cages.
The Reiff brothers, who never married, gave most of their fortune to the Twins Day Festival but also left $250,000 to four churches. None of their four living sisters were named in the will. Said Bechtel, “They only had time for other twins. They were definitely different.” You think?
Finally, here’s my last bit of twins trivia. Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam, which is now Thailand, traveled for many years with P.T. Barnum’s circus and were billed as the original “Siamese Twins” as the were connected at the chest by a five inch band of flesh. Eventually they settled in North Carolina and married two sisters. Between them they fathered 21 children. Which reminds me of a line that Groucho Marx said to a female guest on his show “You Bet Your Life” after the lovely lady told him she was the mother of 8. Groucho shot back, “Listen lady, I like my cigar but every once in a while I take it out of my mouth.” Goodnight, everybody.