The exceptional mourning of twins

I’ve just found an amazing article that looks at how the death of twins is mourned in cultures around the world.

The journal Twin Research and Human Genetics is usually dedicated to the science of twin studies – a key method for understanding the role of genetics and the environment on the development of human traits.

In 2002 they had a special issue that took a very different look at the subject – examining grief and mourning related to twins.

One of the articles is a stunning look at the anthropology of twin death, exploring the diverse and intriguing beliefs and practices concerning twin death.

This is a short excerpt on funeral practices (I’ve removed references removed for ease of reading) although I could have selected almost any part of the fascinating article:

Mythical attributes, such as animal kinship, inevitably influence twin funerary rites. The Ga (west Africa) presume twins have the wild bushcow’s spirit, and living twins rush about like wild cows when a twin dies. The Nootka and Bella Coola (NW North America) believed salmon and twins had close affinity. The Nootka did not bury a dead twin infant, but laid it on swampy ground. A twin who died after infancy was not interred like a singleton, but placed in a box in a riverside tree until the current swept away tree and box together.

Nuer (NE Africa) twin infants’ bodies were placed in trees due to their purported kinship with birds. Both birds and twins were children of God, gaat kwoth, spirits who dwell in air and clouds. A stillborn twin was left in a reed basket in a tree fork and birds of prey supposedly left them intact. Adult Nuer twins weren’t buried, but were laid on a platform with no ceremonies. Twins did not attend others’ funerals.

The Gilyak (Sakhalin Island, Far east) cremated singletons, but burial was mandated for a twin or his parents. Twins, as offspring of the mountain god, were dressed in white and seated Turkish style in a specially built house surrounded with shavings.

The article is completely open-access and, although an academic paper, is quite readable and completely engrossing.
 

Link to article entry (click through for full text PDF)

2 Comments

  1. Emmy
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Is that why piscies is symbolized by mirror images of fish?

    Thanks for this article – I can see how caregivers could consider them special spirits. I assume the twins mourned in the examples usually died in utero?

  2. Todd
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this. Dr. Pector is exceptional on the subject of pre-birth loss, as well as dealing with twinloss in survivors (both siblings and parents).


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