REPORTER: Mark Davis
It's hard to imagine a prettier or happier looking town than Mananjary on the south-east coast of Madagascar. A harmonious place for everyone, it seems - unless you're a twin.
WOMAN (Translation): People dislike twins because they don't want to be responsible for them. They don't want trouble.
Here, if you are born a twin, you run the risk of being left to die in the forest or, if luckier, whisked off for an adoption far way from this area.
WOMAN 2 (Translation): No, I wouldn't raise twins.
Local mayor Martel Razafindrakoto explains the misfortune that twins can bring.
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO, LOCAL MAYOR: For example, flood, poverty, bad agricultural production.
REPORTER: Both have to leave the village?
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: Both have to leave the village.
REPORTER: And if the mother wants to keep them she has to leave the village?
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: Yes, that's right.
REPORTER: What if you are a tourist and you are a twin?
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: The very nervous ones do not accept even to see them.
REPORTER: Because seeing twins they could bring bad luck?
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: Yeah, because twins are evil, twins are misfortune, twins means, for them, very bad things.
REPORTER: But this must be tragic for some women who have to give up their babies?
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: Of course. But some, they are afraid of the weight of the taboo. And so if any misfortune comes to them…
REPORTER: It'll be their fault.
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: Yes, yes.
Until recently, surviving twins were commonly sent out of this area for adoption overseas. This led to accusations that Europeans were encouraging the practice of abandoning twins, with the involvement of businessmen brokering highly profitable baby sales.
MARTEL RAZAFINDRAKOTO: That's why the international community says "Stop it" to Madagascar.
Overseas adoptions have ceased and for the past three or four years, many of the twins born in this region have ended up here at the Fanantene Centre, just on the outskirts of town. There are some general orphans living here, but the key role of this centre is to be the home for 13 pairs of twins. It's part of an attempt to force change on some unusual customs in the region.
TOVO ANDRIAMAMPIONANA, CENTRE DIRECTOR (Translation): In the Amtambahoaka tribe here they get rid of both twins. But the Antamo, who live further down the coast, keep one and give the other away.
The plan is to raise the babies in this compound until they are 18, to normalise the presence of twins and hopefully show that disaster does not follow them. They're kind of goodwill ambassadors, according to centre director Tovo Andriamampionana.
TOVO ANDRIAMAMPIONANA (Translation): We keep them in the community to show the people that you will be more successful if you keep your twins rather than putting them up for adoption.
Sylvester Rakotomalala, the deputy director of the centre, has a particular attachment to twins.
SYLVESTER RAKOTOMALALA, CENTRE DEPUTY DIRECTOR (Translation): The reason I began working here is that I had twins. My girlfriend and I were both students. Her relatives took away one of the boys when he was only one day old.
16 years later, Sylvester reunited with his lost son.
SYLVESTER RAKOTOMALALA (Translation): He came in a car. The car just dropped him off and then left again. It was just after I started working at this centre. He came here and asked if his brother was still alive.
The boys were reunited - something of a bitter-sweet ending, but their fate was certainly an advance on what traditionally happened to twins here.
SYLVESTER RAKOTOMALALA (Translation): They did not actually kill their twins in the past. They left their twins in the wilderness. So of course the result was the same. The babies died even though they did not physically kill them themselves.
This fate traditionally befell either both twins or just one of them when a twin birth was to be covered up.
REPORTER: Does this still happen?
SYLVESTER RAKOTOMALALA (Translation): It still happens. Most of the time, priests, nuns and local authorities bring babies to us that have been left along the roads. We have an example here of a baby boy who had been left abandoned for two days. When someone found him he was nearly dead. All of his skin had dried down to nothing and was coming off.
In the centre of town, attitudes to twins have softened in recent years.
MAN (Translation): It doesn't trouble me seeing twins. I don't see why I would be annoyed.
WOMAN (Translation): I would keep them.
But central Mananjary is a relatively cosmopolitan place with people from all over Madagascar living here now. There is no such diversity of opinion in the surrounding villages. In the traditional tribal areas the abandonment of twins is a secretive and very sensitive topic, particularly since the government has declared it will make it illegal to abandon twins next year. In the village of Ankatafana, no-one would talk with me until I had spoken with the clan chief, or King, as they call him here. And King Sambivelona was fairly frosty when he realised what I wanted to talk about.
KING SAMBIVELONA (Translation): No Atambahoaka person would keep and raise twins. Definitely none. Truly, they will not keep them. We don't throw them away. We don't kill them. What we know is that we will die and become poor and hungry if we keep them.
REPORTER: Are there any women here who've had twins?
The king was emphatic that everyone in the village shared his view and wasn't too keen on me finding out for myself. Many doors were closed in Ankatafana but Norbert, the village soothsayer, was happy to talk.
NORBERT (Translation): Sunday is not a good day, that's your trouble. If it is Saturday, you are always welcome.
Norbert explains that no amount of his magic can wash away the misfortune that twins would bring following an ancient curse by one of their ancestor kings.
NORBERT (Translation): The ancestor had trouble with twins. That's why the Antembahoaka people in this region are cursed by the ancestor. If they give birth to twins they won't be real human beings. Once they have twins they get rid of them as soon as possible. And they don't want to be in touch with them again.
Strictly speaking, the taboo only applies to members of the Amtambahoaka tribe. Another tribe of fishermen live amongst them and remarkably one pair of twins have grown up in this village - Lalo and Nooru. For their father, Berinee, it was no easy task raising his daughters here.
BERINEE (Translation): I've seen two different types of people - those who can cuddle babies and those who just run away from the twins. Some wouldn't even step inside my house.
LALO (Translation): It is very difficult to live with Antembahoaka people. Very difficult. Some dare to come over here but when we are around they shy away. They don't like us being in the village. I don't know whether it is hatred or fear but they avoid us. We can see in their faces what they think of us.
The experience of Lalo and Nooru probably signposts the fate of the twins in the Fanantene Centre. It won't be an easy road ahead of them here. But there are signs of change. The centre has persuaded one couple, Norbert and Odette, not to leave their children at the orphanage but to raise them in town, away from Odette's village.
ODETTE (Translation): I know they are a gift from God so I kept them. My family was horrified and asked me to keep away from the village.
The beginning of a small change, perhaps, but not soon enough for the twins in the centre. The oldest of them are now four - destined to become kind of Argonauts going where no twins have gone in Mananjary before. Within a few years, the first wave of twins will be launched out of this compound into the schools and community of Mananjary. It will be their task to force change on some ancient beliefs, to go head to head with the region's chiefs and witchdoctors, and that's a lot of weight on some small shoulders.
Translations / Subtitling
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