In Buganda, an ethnic group lives in the Central Region of Uganda; twins are imagined to be special of children; many baganda believe that twins are semi gods while others say that they are spirits in the form of human beings; that is the reason many twins and their parents receive special treatment and respect from the time of their birth.
A woman who gives birth to twins in Buganda is looked at as one full of blessings and she is accorded a lot of respect which comes with a title of Nalongo, while the father of twins is referred to as Salongo. When a woman gives birth to twins in Buganda, her husband will be required to inform his in-laws that their daughter has given birth to twins.
He does it in two ways; he will go to his wife’s family home in the wee hours of the morning, knock at the door and scream out, “Your daughter has given birth to twins”, then run away without being noticed. So it will be up to the parents and relatives of the woman to find out who has given birth to twins.
The father of the newly born twins (Salongo) may also throw the enkata which is a ring made from banana leaves at his in-laws’ compound while screaming and saying that, “your daughter has given birth to twins”. The announcement of the arrival of twins made by the salongo is refered to as Okubiika abalongo.
After that announcement, Nalongo is not supposed to go to her parents’ house for anything; in case an emergency requires her to go to her parents’ home, she will not be allowed to eat anything or drink water unless a ritual is performed. After the birth of the twins two baskets are brought, one of which will be kept in the bed room in a safe place, either under the bed or somewhere in the wardrobe. These two baskets will contain a local herb called ebombo and olweza.
One basket will be used to receive gifts from people who come to visit the twins because people are not allowed to place gifts in the children’s hands. The other basket will also contain the local herbs and the fallen umbilical cord stumps of the twins. This basket will be kept very secretly and only brought out for very close family members to place gifts. In this same basket, the parents of the twins keep putting money from time to time.
Since twins are believed to be small gods in Buganda, this specific basket will be brought out only for close family members who sometimes pray to the umbilical cord stumps in it for blessings, and they say that whatever the pray for to that basket they will get it.
Some people will use the same basket with the umbilical cord stumps to invoke curses on others; that is the reason it is only brought out for close family members.
The Baganda say that the umbilical cord stumps are the ones considered as children and that that is where all the respect goes. After the cords have fallen off, the ritual to identify the twins as belonging to the man’s DNA will be arranged. This same ritual is also performed to unite the Salongo and Nalongo’s family so that they can do things freely together.
Before the ceremony is performed, Salongo is required to go to Nalongo’s home and get one of her sisters to come and perform the ritual since tradition does not allow Nalongo to perform any ritual. Her sister will then be known as Nalongo omukulu (meaning the elder Nalango) who will perform all rituals on behalf of her sister.
The family then hire a traditional healer who is an expert in finding out the right DNA of twins; armed with some herbs, local medicine and a bark cloth, he will join the family.
This ritual is usually performed after midnight to make sure that all children are asleep because tradition and culture do not allow them to attend or witness what is taking place.
At midnight, the traditional healer will lay down his bark cloth and he will display his cowrie shells, other fetishes, and herbs on it. He will require Salongo to bring the umbilical cord stumps of the twins for him, after which he will invoke spirits then apply some herbs and other fetishes to the two umbilical stumps; he will then begin tying them together. If he succeeds in tying them, then he will pronounce the twins to have salongo’s DNA but should the cords fail to be united with his herbs, the announcement of twins not having the same DNA as Salongo will be made.
In the event that the stump cords are lost, the traditional healer will invoke his spirits and the first two insects that will fall on the bark cloth will be used to perform the ritual that night. Sometimes, the traditional practice will put the two cords in a basket, and then they will pour water in the basket. If the two cords float on the water then the DNA will be approved by the family of Salongo but if the cords remain seated at the bottom of the basket, then the DNA will not be approved and Nalongo will be asked to take the children to their father’s family.
While all this is taking place, there is a lot of singing, drumming and dancing going on at that time of the night. This is a place where the mother in-law will be dancing with the son-in-law and the daughter-in-law will be dancing with her father-in-law. All the in-laws unite and dance together while singing songs. It should be noted that in Buganda the mother-in-law cannot get close to her son-in-law, and the daughter-in-law cannot get close to her father-in-law because it’s a taboo. This ceremony usually overcomes the taboo and every one unites, shakes hands and dances while holding hands.
Food is cooked that same night and it is usually tiny mushrooms traditionally known as Obutiiko obubaala that are prepared without salt and served with matooke or green bananas for people to eat that same night. Some of the food will be put on the ground and the people dancing will be required step in it as part of the ritual. This specific food is cooked only at night for the night ritual.
This ceremony goes on until the next morning when neighbours are invited for an after-party where plenty of food is cooked and served; local brew is also served. During the day they slaughter chickens, cows or goats depending on the families’ financial position.
Today many families in Buganda consider this same ritual as satanic and very few still perform it. Some people prefer to take the twins to church and have them baptised instead of the traditional ritual performed on them.
They also say that these children are as normal as the rest of the children and there is nothing special about them. They say that it is God who blesses a family with twins and not that the twins are small gods and spirits as they were referred to in the olden days. (Irene Lumunu)