I arrived on a sultry afternoon
Covered in blood
I slipped out of my mother bloody cervix
Into the sweaty, waiting hands of the midwife

My mother looked upon me in pure joy
First fruit of her womb
She smiled through her sweat and tears
And called me ‘Ayò- Joy’

I departed on the night of a full moon
Covered in sweat and tears
Limp in my mother’s arms
Dead from an unexplained fever

I was taken out of my mother’s arms
My father took his eyes off me
As his friends took me out of the house
And buried me in a hastily dug grave

I returned on a rainy morning
My cries very loud
My mother held me in her arms
And called me ‘Rèmílékún- Console me in my weeping’

I departed again at the cock’s crowing
My mother wailed
As she shook my body
And begged me not to leave her

I returned again a year later
From sorrow, my mother was slowly growing bitter
My father had gotten another wife
Again my mother begged me to stay

She called me ‘Rótìmí- Stay with me’
And pampered me
I enjoyed the care
And stayed on for nine years

I left two years later
Distraught, my mother called the diviner
And I was declared an Àbíkú
My father was hardly concerned

The diviner mutilated my corpse
And cast my body into the bush
The new wife bore healthy children
That did not gallivant between the two worlds like me

I came cautiously again
Tired of receiving me over and over
With no assurance of my permanence
My mother called me. ‘Ànwókó- We are yet to find a hoe to dig a grave’

I bore on my body several marks
From the mutilation of my previous body
Annoyed at my mother’s nonchalance towards me
I left again

This time, the diviner took my scarred body
And burnt it to ashes
He told my mother not to have mercy on me
Nor beg me to stay

I came back on a cold harmattan morning
Black and scarred
My mother looked upon me in anger and fatigue
And called me ‘Ajá- Dog’

It is fifteen years since I arrived
And I am yet to return
An end has come to my gallivanting
Between two worlds.

Before medical advancement, infant mortality was very rampant and children who kept dying after being born were called ‘Àbíkú’. An Àbíkú is believed to be a spirit being which takes the form of a child and dies willfully upon being born. For some women, giving birth to àbíkú was declared to be destined (upon visiting diviners) and only curable by charms.
When an àbíkú died, Yoruba people buried it in the bush. When a child had died and been reborn many times, it was not even given the dignity of burial but just cast into the bush. It was also believed that if the body of the child was disfigured, it would be ridiculed in the spirit world for bearing marks, and banished to the earth. Hence it would not be able to die again when it was reborn. Because of this, before casting the body of an àbíkú into the bush, many mutilated it, crippled the arms or legs, or even burnt the body.
It was also believed that some àbíkú had taboos, and if these taboos were avoided, the child would live. Taboos included the child never sleeping at the farm, never being taken to his/her father’s house until s/he was able to walk there, etc.
Àbíkú children were often given names like:
‘Dúrójayé- Stay and enjoy life’
‘Kòkúmó- He does not die again’
‘Málomó- Don’t go anymore’
‘Kúkòyí- Death has refused this one’ etc.
Medical advancement has however helped us to know that recurrent infant mortality is due to many health factors, the most prevalent of which are Rhesus factor (I’ll talk about this in another post) and sickle cell anaemia.
I’ll end this post with a prayer in Yorùbá, “Olôrun má jê ká rí ìdààmú iku omo- may God never let us face the troubles of losing a child.”
And may God console those who have lost children. 😦
Thanks for reading!



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