STOLEN VICTORY - Mary Slessor VS The Calabar Tribes

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Mary Slessor: Twin Babies

Ask the lettered generation who stopped the killing of twins in Nigeria and they will tell you the White Queen of Calabar–Mary Slessor; but ask the true Calabar tribes whose fathers and forefathers witnessed it first hand, and also passed it down to their generations, through folklores and tales, and they will tell you The Tribes. Basically the Efik and the Ibibio Tribes.

Apparently, history was doctored and The Tribes' Victory Stolen, making Mary Slessor’s version the only record available.

“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing over and over again, and that is what they become… The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So I humbly advise, “Take history lessons with a grain of salt for many of them might have been doctored.”


The Version of the Tribes


The tribes truly had some bizarre traditions and most disturbing was the killing of twins (infanticide) owing to the superstitious belief that one was fathered by an evil spirit; and being unable to determine which one, both were taken to the evil forest and left to die.

Fortunately, not all the tribes approved of it, despite the grave consequences. Many hid their twin babies and kept it a secret…

“Wake up papa, wake up”, cried Akpan as he gently tapped his father on the shoulder with cold and shaky hands. Mr. Nsikan – Akpan’s father, having tilled the Earth all day planting Yam and Cassava stems looked absolutely drained and travelled in his sleep.

Akpan, realising that papa needed more than just a gentle tap to be called back from sleep realm resorted to pulling him up, but his strength failed him. Then he took a closer look at Papa, only to realise that his breath was no more.

Shocked and in doubt, he shook him vigorously but got no response. Papa was gone, dead and gone in his sleep.

“Abasi!”, Akpan cried out to God with his knees on the ground and his hands outstretched, then in lamentation he questioned God, “Abasi!, what have we done to deserve this? Abasi, how did we wrong you? Abasi, please, my mother cannot bear these burdens, for at dawn the news of her twins birth will spread and the twins will be taken from her and cast into the Evil Forest and now Papa is dead.” Abasi, please, Obot please …and then he sobs endlessly.

Now emotionally unstable, he shook his dead father vigorously again, begging him to wake up and save his twins.

Meanwhile, grandma a true tribeswoman of Ibibio origin who became tired of waiting for her son and grandson walked down to fetch them herself, only for her to walk into the stench of death, a familiar one. “Not again” she exclaimed and with trembling hands she checked for signs of life, but he was gone. His body was already ice cold. Her son’s death immediately reminded her of her late husband’s death. Her son has now passed on in the same way, possibly from over laboured breathing because of their weight and size. Then she said “So death came visiting my son the same hour I delivered his wife of twin babies.”

Fighting back tears and summoning the courage she is always known for, she said, “Akpan, be strong for you are a man now. We can’t bring back the dead but we can save the living. Now, listen very carefully…go and call Uncle Okon, I mean your mother’s younger brother. Don’t tell him anything; just tell him to come immediately.”

Not frightened by the dark and silent night, I dashed off to Uncle Okon’s house without a bush lamp, running into him as he was about to enter the house after answering nature’s call. “Uncle, grandma wants to see you immediately. First he was shocked to see me at that hour of the night but having heard the brokenness in my voice, he quickly grabbed my hand and on our heels we ran non-stop until we got home. Uncle Okon didn’t try to question me as we ran home, he knows that grandma wouldn’t have summoned him at that hour of the night without a cogent reason; but notwithstanding, I could see the curiosity in his eyes and so did grandma.

Before our arrival, grandma had broken the news to my mother leaving her with strict instructions not to cry out or end up having three corpses at dawn.

“Okon” grandma called on him, pulling him by the hand as she walked. First, she took him to see her dead son (my father), and then to see his sister who has just delivered of twin babies, both boys and both healthy. Then she said “My son waited seventeen long years, praying to God to bless him with another child. Now two blessings abhorred by tradition have arrived but he did not live long enough to see them.” Shaking her head in disagreement, she said “Nyaknno Abasi” meaning I surrender unto God.

Silence seized the moment as Okon sank into a chair feeling great pity for his sister and for grandma who had just lost her joy and pride. Suddenly, grandma said with a trembling voice, “I will not lose a son and two grandsons today; never, my daughter in-law will not survive it”.

Then grandma mustered up courage and said to Okon, “Please go home to your wife, prepare her for an emergency journey, for before the first cock’s crow, the two of you must have sailed off with one of the twin boys to Mirror Island; an Island south of the evil forest and forbidden by the Ibibio people because they believed that dead and lost souls wandered there. Then grandma added, “Trust me, there is no evil there for I once lived there and a part of me remains there. The only evil that exists is the one in the heart of the people who condemn these innocent babies to death.” Then grandma looked at him in the eyes and said “It is your turn to hold the family’s secret and no other person except for you and your wife must know of this.”

Further instructing him, grandma said, “On arrival, locate the first mid-wife on the island and give her this bracelet. Once you do, she will give you all the assistance you need.” That was the first time I saw that bracelet leave grandma’s wrist. It has always been part of her and she looked like she has lost something as she took it off.

Uncle Okon loves his sister so much and it makes me wish that Mama would one day give me a sister, but that is already impossible, as Papa is no more. He looked at her in her present state and wished he could take her place. Then, holding hands with her, they both cried. He tried to console her but couldn’t hold back his own tears. Grandma’s voice suddenly interrupted, “Go and get set Okon for time is not on our side”.

Uncle Okon then dashed off to his house, briefed his very supportive wife of the development and in no distant time they were at our house, ready to take one of the babies as discussed. Though this time he couldn’t look at his sister in the eyes, for his eyes were already red and filled with brewed tears. His wife quickly sympathized with my mother and grandma and off they went.

They sailed off successfully and an hour after they sailed, grandma raised an alarm, breaking the news of her son’s death first as customs demand. Then as sympathizers came around, she broke the news of my mother’s delivery, telling them her son did not wait to see Udoh (His second male son) before leaving Earth. “Nsikan, you should have at least waited to see Udoh,” Grandma cried. That was the first time I saw her grieving and that very moment I realized how strong the bond between mother and child could be.

My father was laid to rest before nightfall and life continued but certainly not for my mother as she was devastated beyond consolation.

A few days later, close acquaintances began to come around, asking after uncle Okon and his wife, and each time, grandma told them they had journeyed to the wife’s village to see her sick father who has been very ill. Her cover story constantly reminds me of how she cautioned me that night, pulling both her ears to show emphasis and I still hear her voice in my head, “The twin births must never be spoken of; it must not be thought of, let alone whispered, for the walls have ears and the wind peddles whispers. Besides, you know the consequences – Death and our bodies will become the properties of the shrine.”

Meanwhile, Uncle Okon and his wife who were now on Mirror Island had no difficulty locating the home of the first mid-wife. But on arrival, some things seemed off and out of place. Mirror Island had so many activities, commercial and other wise. It was another settlement and all the things they have heard about the island appeared to be superstitions.

Now at the home of the first mid-wife, knocks placed on the door were immediately answered by a lady who looked very much like grandma but a little older and taller. That took them by surprise but gave them some confidence that they were in the right place. They handed her the bracelet and she immediately ushered them into her house. “Welcome” she said, I am Mrs. Ubong. I believe my sister sent you,” she added. “Yes” uncle Okon responded before his wife interrupted , “You look very much like her or do I say she looks very much like you”, then they all chuckled; after which she apologized for the interruption and they introduced themselves.

“So, tell me, why are you here?” She asked. Uncle Okon quickly gave her details of what happened and at the mention of my father’s death, a male voice which sounded so familiar echoed from within, “You mean my brother is dead?” Then his footsteps were heard approaching and as he walked up to their sight, their hearts froze and almost jumped out of their chest.” How is this possible?” They questioned simultaneously. It seemed like they had just seen a ghost, the ghost of their late in-law standing right in front of them, in flesh and blood. Okon and his wife quickly went down on their knees to greet him, and at the same time, rising up immediately to console him.

Okon’s wife gently handed over the brother’s son to him, and in that moment, Okon said, “Uncle, you are a mirror image of your brother and we never knew he was a twin”. Your brother has always said he will name his child Eno-Obong (God’s Gift) if he had a boy, always saying that Eno-Obong was a part of him living in another world. Now I understand him and I want to believe you are that Eno-Obong. He responded with a nod while holding the child close to his heart and trying so hard to fight off the tears that brewed in his eyes.

Mrs. Ubong quickly brought a chair for Eno-Obong to sit down and then she said "Late Nsikan and Eno-Obong like you now know were Identical twins. They were saved just like you have saved little Eno, many years ago. This island has been a safe place for many of them, identical ones especially, and that’s why it is called Mirror Island. Many twins living on the other side have their identical pairs here, so travellers and especially twins who come visiting often run into human images of people on the other side and themselves.

Then pointing at the bracelet, she said, “It’s only worn by women who have surviving twins. It is specially made and every woman’s own is unique. My sister cannot wear it anymore because one of her twins is dead but your sister can. So you will take it back and give it to your sister. Let it serve as a reminder to her that she has a son somewhere and will one day see him again. Moreso, many of the twins on this Island have dedicated their lives to saving other twins Eno-obong and Late Nsikan are not exceptions to this course, for many a time Nsikan has sailed down here with rescued twins. He is a hero on this Island and his legacies will never die.”


Just within the same period, there were talks about a second missionary coming; but that did not water down some tribes’ desire for a change in certain disturbing traditions that have long being. This caused an uprising amongst the tribes, with many in agreement and a few in disagreement.

The people had become tired of the many deaths been recorded, as many mothers became suicidal after losing their twins to the age long traditions of killing them because of a superstitious belief. Also, men were tired of constantly losing their twin babies and eventually their wives. They also felt helpless and plagued by loneliness, especially as their other sons fled the villages with the death of an elder, for fear of being killed and buried with him as a servant for his afterlife. Moreso, talks about Mirror Island and its rescue activities had filtered into the homes of many.

Many have now seen the flaws in their belief system, they have suffered it for too long and they have chosen to dare the gods. So they have gathered in their numbers and they matched to the King’s palace. "Change" they wanted and "Change" they chanted. Meanwhile, a small opposition had also gathered comprising mainly of people from the tribes and clan of the High Priest. It was a long debate with many deliberations. The plight of the people were considered, and so were the sufferings of mothers and the mortality rate of young boys who were often killed and buried as servants for the dead, leaving their parents in sorrow and languish.

Eventually, the King bowed to the demands of the people and the killing of twins and other bizarre killings were abolished. Unfortunately, some people from the High Priest’s clan did not approve of the Kings ruling and so were a few tribes. They would rather dare the King than dare the gods; so they stuck to the old ways, staying spellbound to the superstitions and bizarre beliefs, and often fighting and invading homes with twin births.

Fortunately, when the missionary team arrived, headed by Mary Slessor, they also joined the course and further pushed for the killings to stop in those resisting communities, but they encountered a strong resistance. As some tribes did not care about their teachings, just like in their First Missionary visits within the region.

Thus, attempts made by Mary Slessor to shelter some rescued twins in her home failed as the opposing tribes invaded her home in search of rescued twins. She then wrote to the missionary requesting for guards but her request wasn’t honoured. Then for fear of her life and those of the twins already in her custody, the secrets of Mirror Island were revealed to her, and for their safety, she and the endangered twins were sailed to the Island.

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Edited Image: The Sail to Safety

While they sailed to safety, the defending tribes once again gathered in their numbers, and they fought and defeated the opposing tribes and clans, taking some of them as prisoners.

With the opposition now defeated, the Kings ruling (the people desire) became law in the whole of the land and gradually spread throughout the region and beyond.

Today, Mirror Island is known as Twin Island.

This is our story, one notable story of the tribes and how it all happened. Mary Slessor only joined an existing course for change. She alone did not end the killing of twins in Calabar. We did it collectively. Sadly, our victory was solely and all our credits given to her.

Now tell me, isn’t it apparent that History was Doctored?


The End


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