SAVED ...from tribal curse which makes parents murder twins
The Sun On Sunday special investigation at isolated Madagascan orphanage
Twins ... brothers who make up 82 children currently housed at orphanage
By DAN McDOUGALL in Mananjary, Madagascar
Published: 17 hrs ago
IN a remote corner of Madagascar lies one of the world’s most incredible orphanages.
The tropical island is known as the idyllic setting for the animated movie of the same name but the isolated institution has remained hidden to the outside world — until now.
A safe house for abandoned twins from the Antambahoaka tribe, they are lost infants demonised by an ancient curse that leads to their murder at the hands of the people they expected to love them most: Their PARENTS.
“There are many old ways that have been used to kill newborn twins up here in the mountains,” says Latif, our local guide, shivering in horror at the thought of generations of dead children buried in the spongy rainforest floor beneath our feet.
Off of Africa ... Mananjary, Madagascar
Latif says: “Traditionally, the ‘matching’ babies from the tribe were smothered in large clay pots. These were filled to the top with damp earth.”
Other families would place their twin babies in the cattle sheds before the cows came in from the fields.
Trampled by the animals, they would have no chance of survival. Others are drowned.
Latif says: “Now most of the twins are left alone in the forest at only a few hours old so they starve and are eaten by animals.
“Nature hides the evidence this way. But this is carried out in places few will ever speak of.”
One villager matter-of-factly explained: “We will not allow twins in our land. With every breath these children are cursed.”
Over the years thousands of innocent twins have been killed without a single prosecution by the authorities.
Today the surviving children — abandoned together as babies in baskets by the roadside or riverbank rather than murdered — remain as the only proof of the brutality.
In the refuge they are given the love their families denied them and the chance to be adopted and accepted by society, as shown by the pictures on the left. A sign at the gate simply says: “A Centre Welcoming and Transiting Abandoned Twins”.
Saviour ... carer poses with twins at orphanage
Inside, identical twins run screaming and laughing across a sandy courtyard.
Other twins, whose siblings are dead or inexplicably separated from them, seek comfort in the arms of the matronly carers.
The children are all from the Antambahoaka tribe, one of the most mysterious in the world.
The belief that twins should not remain with their biological parents is blamed on a curse and perpetuated by the tribe’s ten chiefs, elderly men elected to their positions.
The elders blame the failure of Madagascar’s 1947 revolt against the French colonial authorities as one example of the curse, which they say stretches back at least three centuries.
According to the legend, a queen from their tribe fled fighting but forgot one of her twins.
She sent soldiers back to fetch the child and they were all massacred.
There is no historical proof of the event ever happening.
Madame Julie Rasoarinanana, a devout Christian who runs the orphanage, says: “There is nowhere else on Earth where little twins are left to die in the dirt.
“For this I am ashamed but we must do our best. We must do everything we can for these children. We saved them from death at the hands of their own — and we must grow them.”
REMOTE island slays newborn twins as a superstition, but hospice does best to rescue as many as possible
Madame Julie claims to have had at least 300 twins adopted in the past decade alone. As we speak, she pulls out a pile of disturbing photographs. They show newborns abandoned on the road near the tribe’s settlements. In some cases, she tells me, the children are found by more sympathetic tribespeople and brought to the orphanage’s doors.
The images are upsetting. They show newborns still coated in amniotic fluid. In most cases their eyes are fused shut.
Julie adds: “It goes against all motherly instincts to abandon your child. But to the Antambahoaka mothers these children are cursed.
“They cannot be touched after birth. All they can do is cut the umbilical cord and turn their back on the babies. They will not wash them, feed them or look at them.”
Her colleague Madame Luciene Razafindrasoe is a senior nursery carer.
She said: “If they don’t reach us in the first few hours, they often die without food. We rely on samaritans to find them after they are abandoned.
“The open wounds of the umbilical chord and their need for milk makes it a battle against time. When the babies arrive dead it affects us all. It seems impossible to recover from that... this is a sickness in our culture.”
The orphanage was established in 1987. It houses 82 children, from just a few months to mid-teens.
At least 40 of the children are twins or twins who have been separated from or lost their sibling to disease.
Madame Luciene adds: “Most people who adopt wish for newborns, so they can mould and shape them as their own — but as the kids grow older they have less chance of adoption.
“We never separate the twins, no matter what, so they have each other.
“It is especially difficult for the children who came to us as separated twins. They are growing up without their other half. That is so sad.”
Photos ... former residents who've been adopted
For Gogo, a 29-year-old twin brought up in the orphanage with his sibling Mike, life as an orphan gave him more of an education than he would have received in his community. Today he travels round teaching locals in rural communities about why they should abandon the taboo.
He says: “The saddest thing for me is that I probably have brothers and sisters I will never meet. I could be standing in a market being sold vegetables by my own sister and I wouldn’t know it’s her. The thought of what I have lost makes me cry.”
Two of the oldest twins in the orphanage, 13-year-old Dorothé and Patricia, have only ever known the four walls of the centre.
Potential adoptive parents have come and gone but the girls remain.
“We have seen our friends go abroad to families in France,” said Dorothé.
“It is hard never to have had parents but the carers here brought us up as their own.” Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa and roughly the size of France.
It is the only country in the world where twins are specifically targeted for murder by their families.
Professor Ignace Rakoto, an academic who has been studying the tribe, says: “There is a serious problem here but we are behind on predicting scale.
“If anyone mentions twins they believe they will bring a curse. Not only that, they know the practice of killing children could land them in prison. So these communities, which are already closed off from much of the world, are silent on the issue.”
Remote ... Mananjary, Madagascar
As we drive through Antambahoaka country, children flee at the sound of car tyres spinning on muddy tracks.
In the most remote villages small children burst into tears screaming vazaha (foreigners) at us.
Red-eyed farmers, drunk on home-made beer, sit as their wives pound rice using 6ft clubs. Little has changed in a century. Although figures are impossible to come by, it is estimated that hundreds of children are still being killed here each year.
But, according to Madame Julie, the mothers who abandon their children are also victims.
She says: “We cannot see them as monsters. They won’t touch their newborn child. The umbilical cord is sliced and they turn away for ever.
“To do that takes a remarkable strength of conviction or, more likely, a sense of terror that they are to blame for everything.
“That they are the reason for the curse — and I doubt they ever recover from that.”