May 15, 2024


The philosophy of Ifa, originating in Africa and meticulously preserved by the Yoruba people to the present day, encompasses a comprehensive body of knowledge on human life, character, predestination, destiny, and nature which seeks to propose a resolution for one of the most arduous dilemmas: the approach to addressing the medical needs of an individual afflicted with the inherent essence of Abiku.

The term "Abiku" finds its roots in the Yoruba language, signifying "born to die" "predestined to death". It is from (abi) "that which was born" and (iku) "death" and denotes a spirit child destined for a brief and tumultuous existence, characterized by recurrent premature deaths and rebirths. This entity is believed to possess a profound connection to the spirit world, often displaying supernatural abilities and a limitless understanding of the occult.

In the history of African spiritual traditions, few subjects elicit the level of intrigue and interest as the Abiku. The Yoruba Abiku is a topic that is deeply captivating and stems from the abundant folklore and beliefs of the Yoruba community in Nigeria and surrounding areas, the Abiku ideology explores profound aspects of existence, mortality, and the metaphysical realm. Central to the mythology of the Abiku is the concept of a cosmic conflict between the opposing forces of life and death. As per Yoruba faith, the Abiku is believed to exist in a continuous state of liminality, torn between the inclination to stay in the physical world the attraction of the spiritual realm. Whenever an Abiku child passes away prematurely, it is believed to return to the spiritual realm, only to be pulled back to the earthly plane by its unquenchable craving for human experiences.

Through the course of this article we will be enlightened about the reality of an Abiku  child. By delving deep into the mythological concepts and exploring cultural interpretations, we hope to gain more insight on of Africa’s most intriguing spiritual phenomenon.


An artwork of flying babies

According to the beliefs held by the Yoruba community, who are native to the western region of Nigeria, it is understood that following death, the soul is the sole aspect of the human body that endures. This perception signifies the intangible attributes inherent in humanity The ancient Yoruba civilization harbored a deep-seated conviction in the enduring nature of the soul, a belief stemming directly from this understanding. Concepts such as Ipadawaye, translating to "ancestor's rebirth," Akudaaya, meaning "die and reappear," and Abiku, signifying "born to die," serve as three instances through which the Yoruba people seek to grasp the concept of reincarnation.

With the Yoruba people, the temporal aspect of existence begins with the conception of a human individual in their Ori. Ori, represented by the head, serves as both a symbol of fate and is an important factor in determining one's position in the life. One essential element regarding fate is the individual's place in their ongoing life cycle; equally significant is the quest for understanding one's ephemeral identity.

Thus, Ori embodies the core of human essence, functioning as a mentor and protector throughout life with a unique characteristic - Ori's presence starts from birth, accompanying the individual from inception to mortality and beyond. Hence, all incidents and adversities encountered are manifestations of Ori, portraying it as the ultimate source and cornerstone of all life experiences.

The Abiku, due to the transient nature of its existence, goes through multiple successive life cycles with a single mother, as every effort by the parents to avert the Abiku's demise proves futile, given that this child is inherently resistant to constraints. Through its spiritual abilities, the Abiku has the capability to end its own life, resulting in the sorrow and disappointment of the parents. In cases where the Abiku is the first child of a mother, it is plausible and not uncommon for her to ultimately remain childless if the Abiku remains unyielding, a trait often observed in this unique group of children. Furthermore, according to Yoruba beliefs, an Abiku never commits to staying in the physical realm, elucidating why the Abiku remains indifferent to the struggles of its mother and her anguish over a childless existence. The Yoruba community upholds the notion that Abikus constitute a distinct type of spiritual beings known as "Emere" or "Ogbanje". It is also believed that Abiku spirits reside within trees, particularly in revered and sizable trees such as iroko, baobab, and silk-cotton; they also gather in anthills and are thought to frequent dung hills.  Thus, in order for a pregnant woman to evade encounters with an Abiku spirit, she must not only be aware of their preferred gathering spots but also the timing of their visits. It is believed that Abiku spirits are inclined to appear at unconventional hours: shortly before sunrise, during scorching afternoons, and on dim, somber nights.

These beings are considered either malicious, mischievous or easily bored, and this is why they shuffle between both the physical and spiritual realm. An Abiku child is nothing but a curse to the family who is plagued by these spirits. It is a commonly held belief that Abiku beings bring misfortune upon their parents, deriving great satisfaction from witnessing their mother's sorrow upon their demise, as the tears shed by their mothers hold significant spiritual value for the Abiku entity. The presence of Abiku in the lives of humans is fleeting, with their passing often coinciding with moments of celebration such as weddings, graduations, and other joyous occasions.


An Abiku can be characterized by a wide array of traits, ranging from physical to emotional. Usually when such child is identified by the parents as an Abiku, the parents of such child start to employ various methods to either “ground” or “earth” the child as a means to stop said child from dying untimely.

A pair of Yoruba bracelets with bells

One of the most glaring characteristics associated to Abiku, is simply their high mortality rates. An Abiku child is either always sickly or prone to life threatening accidents, and this phenomenon is attributed to the spirits attracted to the Abiku's soul, another reason for this because the spirit child has a prior contract and attachment to a group of other spirits in the alternate plane of existence. Most times the spirits hovering around the are driven away by iron trinkets, like bangles and anklets, as well as spiritual talismans shackled to the wrists and ankles of the Abiku child.

A statue of the Esu deity

Since the Abikus are believed to be children of the Yoruba trickster god ”Esu”, their physical manifestation are usually very problematic, stubborn, cruel and mischievous. The Abiku child is known to delight in maliciousness and crave causing havoc in the lives of whosoever is laden with their curses. Point in fact, these spirits intentionally threaten their families with ending their lives if their ridiculous demands are not met. To appease their spirits, appeasement in form of spiritual sacrifices and offerings to the god as well as spirits are made by the parents.

Abiku are usually very beautiful and talented, ending up being the apple of the eye of their parents, it is said their prowess is for the purpose of plunging their families and loved ones into total grief in the advent of their demise. When a traditional Yoruba family ultimately loses the Abiku child yet again, the parents are advised to mark the child in anyway to reduce the value of the child in the spiritual realm, thus either the “ila”(marking) is given to the child at birth, or torturous measures like, hot-iron branding, mutilation of the limbs or even burning, will be taken on the dead body of the child. This belief is backed by the fact that if the Abiku shows up in the spiritual realm disfigured they would lose creditability and therefore be banished to the earthly planes.

A baby with Ila (Tribal markings)

Abiku children can also be identified by the names they are given, parents of the child hold out hope that by calling the child by enticing names, the spirit will be tempted to stay on the mortal plane. Examples of such names include, Durojaiye which translates to “stay and enjoy the world”, Malomo signifying “don't go again” and so many more. These names are bestowed on a child and usually come with an  Oriki  to appease the disruptive spirit of the child when angered.


In changing times and with the advent of modernization, the concept of an Abiku is one that is fading into delusions, with the scientific backings of the phenomenon relegated to children born with the Sickle cell anemia condition, this being as a result of two people with incompatible genotypes coming together to reproduce. The result is a child who is prone to illness and has weakened disposition. Another modern explanation of the Abiku phenomenon is poverty, it is stated families with little to no income have children who are extremely unhealthy and could contract various diseases from infancy to whenever their bodies give up the fight.

Regardless of these perspectives, the belief of Abiku is still one that endures as a result of real life narratives of said Abikus and parents of the Abiku. Some cultural narratives have testified to the existence of spirit children, in the occurrences of births of deformed children with the exact same deformation bestowed on the corpse of their previous lives. A corpse burned is rebirthed as a too dark child, one with branding or markings are reborn with the same markings on the same place on their bodies, corpses with severed limbs are reincarnated as handicaps.


The Yoruba concept of Abiku may primarily sound primitive and uneducated, and while science has significantly contributed to reducing child mortality rates, leading to a decline in the prevalence of Abiku beliefs. Despite these advancements, instances of unexplained child deaths still occur. In such cases, the Yoruba culture attributes these deaths to the spiritual entities of Abiku suggesting a need to explore the spiritual realm for solutions. Moreover, the proliferation of the Christian religion has led to a reduced reliance on spiritual practitioners, consequently diminishing the belief in the authenticity of reincarnation stories.

Despite all of these perspectives the existence of Abiku is highly considered as a real phenomenon and will continue to endure as like most myths in the Yoruba belief system.


  1. Mobolade, Timothy. “The Concept of Abiku.” African Arts 7, no. 1 (1973): 62–64. https://doi.org/10.2307/3334754.
  2. Osadola, Oluwaseun S. “ Reincarnation in the Yoruba Ontology: Abiku” Matondang Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2023): 27-35. https://doi.org/10.33258/matondang.v2i1.806
  3. Tomsic, Mateja. “The Abiku Phenomenon: Spiritual Origin and Treatment of Self-Destructivness.” IFA Spiritual Counseling, December 22, 2021. https://akengen.com/2021/12/22/the-abiku-phenomenon-spiritual-origin-and-treatment-of-self-destructivness/
  4. “Abiku,” December 18, 2023. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiku.

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