Abiku and Emere refer to people who are believed to cycle rapidly and repeatedly through birth and death. A consecutive familial sequence of births and deaths of infants is construed as the same child dying and being born over and over again.
Abiku literally means ‘‘born to die’’ in the Yoruba language. It is a concept similar to Igbo’s concept of ogbanje. A typical characterization is that they are ‘‘a cycle of wicked spirits who of their own volition enter the wombs of pregnant women and are born to die shortly after’’.
Cultural mechanisms presented to account for the phenomenon include that some children come into the world after a pact with their heavenly playmates to return after a specified period and that there are companies of wandering spirits (elere, elegbe, emere) given to the prank of entering into pregnant women for the sheer relish of the mischief.
It is believed that Abiku or Emere usually make a covenant with his companions that on a named date, he/she would return to his normal life. Emere refers to one who belongs to such a group and may be compared to ndi otu of the Igbo. The Yorubas believe that Emere causes the abiku phenomenon, but not all Emere are Abiku.
The Igbos believe that ogbanje (same as Abiku or Emere) results from the subversion of human destiny by a willful alliance of the newborn with deities who guard the postulated interface between birth and pre-birth (spirit) existence, while the Yoruba concept of Abiku and Emere is more of possessing a pregnancy by spirit pranksters.
Surviving persons manifest abnormalities of psychological life with vivid fantasy life or dreams characterized by the presence of water, orgiastic play with unfamiliar children, and frightening contact with a water goddess. Labeled children and adolescents often exhibit manipulative, histrionic dissociative, and other maladaptive behavior.
They may also be gifted. Contradictory and facultative practices of excessive indulgence of and ostentatious hostility towards Abiku/Emere children are described but are better understood as exhibitions of acceptance of life and rejection of death.
Understanding Abiku and Emere
Abiku is said to be someone, who does not care about their own suffering, they suffer with a smile. Sweetness and bitterness are two extremes that are present at all times. This is the energy of Abiku’s Ori: When we talk about Abiku we can see that a lot of people like to suffer and they do not care that they are suffering. Their feelings and their activities are always connected with suffering.
If we look at the lives of people critically, we can easily see this. This is a trend for everyone that has Abiku energy. The reality of Abiku is connected to their Ori. One of the toughest challenges is how to treat (heal) someone who is born with the energy of Abiku. Ifa considers the individual a top priority, using all the knowledge and instruments it deals with making the individual’s life good here and now, in this life.
Everyone is born with some sort of pre-destiny. It is not fate because if something is fated, then the individual has no way of affecting that. But when something is pre-destined, someone can realize that or not because everyone is responsible for his own life. In life, we have all that which we can call good luck: progress, longevity, health, and luck, but good goes hand-in-hand with destructive energy, and if we wish to achieve the good, we have to neutralize the bad.
We can classify destructive energy into four basic destructive elements:
When we consider a person who has the Abiku syndrome, it means that these destructive energies are constantly stalking him and that he is under a heavy influence in at least one area by some of these elements. When everything seems to go well and suddenly it seems as if one of these energies got activated and it gives out the impression of being out of the person’s control.
Emere and Abiku are the kinds of children who make a certain pledge concerning their life duration with their mates in the Spiritual Sphere. At the expiration of their time, they die and reunite with their mates. Some oral traditions also confirm that some Emere among them are readily married in their realm and probably bore children over there.
A spirit that is referred to as Spiritual Husband (Oko Orun) will have sexual intercourse with her in her dream and this will result in miscarriage. The Emere and Abiku if eventually cannot return to their mates, perhaps because of some spiritual appeasement made by their parents, are believed to be having problems because their mates will be crossed with them for breaking the reunification accord.
The problem such a person usually confronts is the misplacing or total loss of any items in their possession often, money. The solution to that may include offering sacrifice inform of food to stop such occurrences.
Characteristics of Abiku and Emere
- Frequent physical illness
- Prevalence reduced by modern medical methods
- Has a ‘‘date with death’’
- In utero detection and treatment of ‘‘abiku illness’’ is possible
- Parental moral and social transgressions may be contributory
- Visual hallucinations
- Children cults comparable to adult witchcraft cults
- No physical illness
- Rejoices at the misfortune of others; often believed to cause bad luck
- Fainting and trance-like episodes
- Association with water spirits and deities
- Social deviance or parental involvement in sorcery may be contributory
- Prevalence reduced in recent years
The native healers consulted, unlike published authors who see Emere as a cause of Abiku distinguish clearly between Emere and Abiku. Their impressions of Emere may be summarized as ‘‘bad kids from bad parents, who bring bad luck to their parents.’’ Their problems are seen as predominantly behavioral and experiential. There is no ‘‘date with death’’ or physical illness issues as with Abiku.
An additional twist is a notion that medical science has actually reduced the number of Abiku worldwide, and they boast an ability to diagnose Abiku in utero, by divination. But since Emere could cause Abiku, the Abiku has the potential both to die on a date or at will and to be associated with psychological problems.
Some Abiku Names and Meanings
- Ikudeinde: Means death has come back. The tone signifies dread
- Kokumo: Meaning not dying again. The tone signifies hope
- Apara: Meaning one who comes and goes. The tone is signifies deadpan
- Ikujore: Meaning death leaves him. The tone signifies hope
- Biobaku: Meaning if he does not die. The tone signifies a reservation
- Durotimi/Rotimi: Meaning stay with me. The tone signifies supplication
- Kukoyi: Meaning death rejects this one. The tone signifies hope
- Malomo: Meaning don’t go again. The tone signifies supplication
Research has also shown that the Abiku and Emere are very attractive because of their beauty and they love to live very close to water or coastal areas. They are the agents of Esu (a deity) according to some thoughts and convictions, but some believe that they are good to be with because they will affect anybody they love with a blessing endowed on them spiritually.
The Yoruba tradition affirms that the Emere and Abiku spirit usually roam around some areas like the side of the road, corners in the cities and villages, footpaths in suburban areas, jungle, inside trees like Iroko tree, etc, and all these places are forbidden for pregnant women to go by. The Yoruba belief is that if a pregnant woman goes to such areas, the spirit of the Emere or Abiku can follow the woman to her home and she might eventually give birth to a child with either Abiku or Emere spirits.
In preventing such incidence, pregnant women according to the Yoruba tradition are advised to attach either a needle or a small white stone to the edge of their clothes. The Emere and Abiku would not be able to follow the woman because those things are signs that work against them.
Aside from this, pregnant women are not advised to stay alone in a hidden and dark place. They should also desist from going to T junction at noon. They are also forbidden to go out at the late hours of the night and they should desist from going to coastal areas and dumping sites.
Although, this could be unacceptable in science because it is a metaphysical issue that science is incapacitated to accept or refuse. It is completely out of the scientific realm.
This is not to discredit science because science has made some irrevocable contributions to improving the child mortality rate to the extent that the concept of Abiku and Emere has almost gone extinct. However, the fact is, there are still cases of children’s death without any sign of illness. Whenever such an incident happens, the Yorubas believe that such a child is either Abiku or Emere and the solution is to trail the spiritual dimension.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the concepts of Abiku and Emere are far beyond the prospects of physical death. They reflect the group assumptions that early mortality is not the design of a Supreme God (Olodumare) but an aberration. Unfortunately, the explanatory myths also end up designating surviving children themselves as potential aberrations.
Stigmatization with names suggestive of non-human status and implying an innate abnormality may also be important. One important group that must not be overlooked is the mothers who repeatedly suffer from losses from infant mortality, recurrent or not.
- Ogbanje/Abiku and cultural conceptualizations of psychopathology in Nigeria by Sunday Ilechukwu
- Abiku and Emere In Yoruba Culture by Oluwo Jogbodo Orunmila
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