Folklore of The Week: The Abiku

This week’s folklore is about the spirits of the Abiku.

Origin: Yoruba, African.

Appears as: an omen, or repeated experience.

Sacred people: children and women.


In the Yoruba culture the Abiku is not a deity or has any identify to how it looks, people are generally fearful of it. It’s an energy or spirit. The malefic spirits are never summoned they are banished.  The first form the Abiku comes in can be described like vampire energies that drain the life of others, any and every one even animals, especially children this is who they crave. Children are encouraged to stay inside at night-time, as parents fear this energy. The spirit can be repelled with amulets, iron, or more powerful spirits that are summoned to defeat it. A child that dies before the age of twelve is said to be the soul of an Abiku child.

Who are The Abiku?

Abiku in the Yoruba culture’s folklore are souls that are born only to die, that’s their aim. It manifests itself as repeated miscarriages, or still born children, or children that don’t make it past the infant stages. Often these spirits return to the same mother, hence the repeated miscarriages that women can experience. Or children of mothers don’t make it past infant stage and enter teen or adulthood. If a mother is suspected of being surrounded by the malefic Abiku energy the Orisha Oshun, a powerful African deity that rules over fertility and childbirth can dismiss the energy. If it has been placed on a mother via a curse, Oshun can also remove it. In Nigeria there is a shrine for Oshun  that mothers of Abiku children visit to leave offerings, and petition her for healthy children.

It is said that the spirits that fall into the Abiku enjoy the back and forth between the different realms of time and space, and the spirit realm.

The second energy of Abiku in the Yoruba folklore is kinder, they have bonded with the mothers they were children of, via the pain they caused them, and will ‘hover’ around them. Sometimes they are around children that have been born to a mother, and try to tempt the child to join them, as in to die and become one of them. Amulets, iron, and metal can be used to keep them away.

The nature of this folklore spirit is:

  • They never change their nature and how they are. They dwell between both worlds of time and space, and the spiritual realm.
  • They are ‘tied’ or even ‘bonded’ with the families they were in, but this conflicts with the ties they also have in the spiritual realm and spiritual soul mates. They find it hard to decide where they wish to remain.
  • A witch or person who is competent in magical arts has cursed a mother and a family, hence why the family and mother experience the death and rebirth cycle of their children, repeatedly.
  • The soul of an Abiku child is sometimes said to be a person who has been in contact with the family, and is angry with them.
  • The soul of an Abikiu child that chooses to go through the death-rebirth cycle on purpose, does this as think it’s ‘fun’ or some kind of game to play.

The last three points are said to be markers within the Yoruba culture to tell if a woman is cursed with Abiku.

The folklore of this spirit has made it into Nigerian literature also, the poem by Wolr Soyinka, and in the novel Things Fall Apart  by Chinua Achebe first published in 1958.



Wanderer child. It is the same child who dies and
returns again and again to plague the mother.
Yoruba belief

In vain your bangles cast
Charmed circles at my feet
I am Abiku, calling for the first
And repeated time.

Must I weep for goats and cowries
For palm oil and sprinkled ask?
Yams do not sprout amulets
To earth Abiku’s limbs.

So when the snail is burnt in his shell,
Whet the heated fragment, brand me
Deeply on the breast – you must know him
When Abiku calls again.

I am the squirrel teeth, cracked
The riddle of the palm; remember
This, and dig me deeper still into
The god’s swollen foot.

Once and the repeated time, ageless
Though I puke, and when you pour
Libations, each finger points me near
The way I came, where

The ground is wet with mourning
White dew suckles flesh-birds
Evening befriends the spider, trapping
Flies in wine-froth;

Night, and Abiku sucks the oil
From lamps. Mothers! I’ll be the
Suppliant snake coiled on the doorstep
Yours the killing cry.

The ripest fruit was saddest
Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.
In silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping
Mounds from the yolk.

Written by Wole Soyink






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