Abikus: West African Changelings

Kneeling Yoruba worshiper with child; photo by Hiart (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The words abiku and ogbanje refer both to a child who dies before puberty and to the evil spirit that brings about that death. Abiku is the Yoruba word; ogbanje is the Igbo word.

An abiku is a “spirit child” sent by his or her other spirit playmates to be born into a family and terrorize them. The abiku spirit world is said to be populated by children who play all day long and are engaged in all sorts of merrymaking. They often choose a rich family as their victim. The child of this rich family then repeatedly falls sick, causing his or her parents to squander their wealth seeking for a cure.

Eventually, at a previously determined date (especially on a joyful occasion like a festival or marriage), the child falls sick and dies. Then he or she is reborn again and again to the same family until they are totally exhausted emotionally and financially.

There is no known way to divest oneself of an abiku. Sometimes, however, when a mother repeatedly gives birth to an abiku, he is branded at death so as to be recognized when he comes back again. They are often spoiled by their parents in a bid to persuade them to stay.

Certain Yoruba names suggest the suspicion that a child is, in fact, an abiku. Such names include Durojaiye (“stay and enjoy life”), Banjoko (“stay with me”), Malomo (“don’t go again”), and Durosinmi (“stay and rest”).

In Igbo folklore, ogbanje are often very beautiful girls.

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Uncanny Georgia: Oba

Igbo man with facial scarifications ("ichi"), early 20th century

Igbo man with facial scarifications (“ichi”), early 20th century

For the last installment in this series, I’d like to direct your attention to a ghost story that is told on St. Simons Island, as it is recounted at The Moonlit Road:

Near the mouth of Dunbar Creek on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, there’s a section of swampy marshland where some fishermen refuse to cast their lines. In the daytime, it doesn’t look any different from the other vast marshes stretching across Georgia’s coastal islands. Elongated white herons call to one another over the endless plain of reeds and mosquito infested marsh grasses. Fiddler crabs scurry across the sands. Unseen creatures plop into the black waters.

But when night falls, it is said that one can hear a different sound entirely. Swamps are known to make strange sounds at night. But if you listen closely, you may hear what sounds like the faint rattling of chains drifting across the marsh, followed by an eerie chant: “The water brought, us the water will take us away.”

If you think your ears are deceiving you, think again. For the old timers in the area will tell you that what you’re hearing is the brave warrior Oba, leading his people on their final march home….

Read the rest here.