Image: Italo Paiva

Upon arriving in Nigeria's self-proclaimed capital of twins, Igbo-Ora, to investigate the phenomenon of multiple births in the rural town, we were greeted with news of a recent birth at the local clinic.

The newborns' mother, a twin herself, was accompanied by her twin brother in the ward, capturing photos of his nephew and niece.

Surrounding the newborns were their grandmother, also a twin, and great-grandmother, who had given birth to two sets of twins.

"That's how we do it here. We give birth to twins. It makes our town special," the twins' grandmother proudly informed the BBC. "It makes us proud and we love them. They bring us success," she added. "People are disappointed if they don't give birth to twins."

Indeed, Igbo-Ora boasts a higher-than-average rate of twins, with approximately 45 per 1,000 births compared to the global average of 12 per 1,000. In Yoruba culture, predominant in the region, twins are considered a blessing, and their names are predetermined: the older twin is Taiwo, meaning "the one that tests the world," while the younger is Kehinde, meaning "the one that came after."

The next day, at Igbo-Ora's high school, we found that these names dominated the roll-call, with nearly every student raising their hand when asked if they were a twin or had a twin in the family. But why are there so many twins in the area?

According to local folklore, the village's founding in the 14th century by an exiled prince of the Oyo Kingdom involved specific offerings to Yoruba gods, resulting in the blessing of twins. Some attribute the high twin birth rate to a traditional dish called "ilasa," made from okra leaves, believed to enhance fertility.

While researchers explore various factors contributing to Igbo-Ora's multiple births, including genetic predisposition and dietary influences, the community celebrates twins as bearers of good fortune and protection.

The town's traditional ruler, Oba Jimoh Olajide, envisions Igbo-Ora setting a world record for the highest rate of multiple births, paving the way for tourism and economic growth.

Despite the cultural reverence for twins in Igbo-Ora, in other parts of Nigeria, such as the Bassa-Komo community near Abuja, twins were once regarded with fear and superstition.

Missionary efforts have since changed attitudes, with initiatives like The Vine Heritage Home orphanage rescuing twin children and providing them with education and support.

While twins may not be as universally revered as in Igbo-Ora, efforts to combat superstition and promote acceptance continue, with the hope that one day, every child, regardless of their birth status, will be welcomed with open arms.