Twins: Who is the Oldest?

Which twin is the oldest; the one who is born first or second? To the Western mindset the answer is straightforward, but in Northern Ivory Coast things are seen a little differently – there, the second born twin is actually the older:

The reasoning behind this is that the older is more important, so the younger one preceded him to prepare the way (this is what happens, after all, at Nyarafolo events—the most important people come later than everyone else). Or, as some say, the older one is higher/deeper in the womb so has been there longer. Either way, first one born is younger and second born is older.

Linnea Boese (Hi!) has posted a really interesting article about the way the Nyarafolo people view twins and how their worldview impacts Bible translation.

Linnea’s article mentions the DeGraaf family twins – I remember visiting the DeGraaf family shortly after the twins were born – in the same hospital where our Sam was born a few years earlier. It is rather worrying to see how old the twins look now! Dave and Karen, if you are reading this – how about a reciprocal link?

2 thoughts on “Twins: Who is the Oldest?

  1. This would have some interesting consequences for the interpretation of Genesis 25:24-26 and 38:27-30. Indeed could there be some link between these stories in which the second twin to emerge becomes the heir and the Nyarafolo custom?

  2. The Nyarafolo custom of calling the first twin to hit the air the “youngest” is, for them, simply the reflection of a self-evident truth, and in keeping with other aspects of their worldview. The oldest always sends the youngest on errands, and for the youngest (firstborn) twin the first errand is to check out the world before the oldest leaves the safety of the womb.
    Peter Kirk is right in guessing that this understanding makes the interpretaion of those passages in Genesis (and elsewhere) less than straightforward. I have never, however, seen any evidence that there is any link between this practice and Scripture.
    We first became aware of the custom in a church service during which the sermon, given by an American preaching in French on one of these passages, was being translated on the spot into Nyarafolo. The preacher used “eldest” and “first-born” interchangeably until the confusion became apparent.
    I don’t think this practice has the impact on the issue of inheritance that we might expect, because inheritance in traditional Nyarafolo culture was already so complex. The oldest don’t necessarily inherit the most, and traditionally boys were more likely to inherit from their mother’s brothers than from their father.
    The fact that OUR twins were born in this context has had continuing repercussions in the micro-culture that is our family. Each of the boys claims that HE is the oldest, one because we are Americans and the other because they were born in Nyarafolo territory. When this discussion gets too annoying, I remind them that their mother has no brothers and their father has no money, so winning the argument has only a very limited value.

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