(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, November 1, 2021)
When the blindfolded head drops on the hard floor, kpi!, like the back-kick of an angry horse, please, know that not all guillotined heads are guilty.
That is why the Yoruba say, “Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po.” Imogun is the Yoruba Golgotha; the place of skulls, where many innocent heads have rolled down the pit of death, spurting hot blood.
If man didn’t reach for the sky at Babel, and all languages were one, I wouldn’t be saddled with the burden of translating this Yoruba proverb into English. But, it’s ok, I’ll try.
“Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po” alerts the heedful to the limitations of human judgment and the evil that lurks in man’s heart.
I felt like going beyond the translation of the proverb into English. So, I went in search of the Araba of Osogbo, Chief Ifeyemi Elebuibon, to unravel for me the story behind the proverb.
“Once upon a time,” Elebuibon began, “Ogunda and his friend, Irosun, had an argument. Ogunda contended that many of those beheaded at Imogun are guiltless, but Irosun disagreed, saying, “Ika to ba se, l’Oba nge,” meaning: “It’s only the offending finger that the king cuts.
“So, one night, Ogunda killed an antelope in the forest. He sneaked into Irosun’s house and smeared his sleeping friend’s hands with the blood of the kill even as he sprinkled the blood on the ground, all the way to the king’s pen.
“Very early the following morning, Irosun was still sleeping when the king’s guards broke down his door and arrested him for killing the king’s antelope. Irosun pleaded his innocence, but he was dragged away, all the same, his toes barely touching the ground.
“The guillotine was the final journey for anyone that stole from the royal farm. Irosun’s fate was sealed. He must honour a date with death.
“On the Day of Death, many people trooped out to Imogun, to watch how the thief’s head would tumble down the headful dumpsite, squirting blood.
“The masked hangman with bulging biceps and a razor-sharp sword curved at the tip like Go-to-hell advanced slowly towards the shackled Irosun. He stood at arm’s length and raised up his shiny sword to heaven for the swift strike that would cut off the neck bone, separating the head from the body.
“He brought down his sword impatiently as Ogunda stepped out, and told the truth. Irosun was shaken back to life, sweat and urine had soaked his clothes. Ogunda asked his friend if it was only the guilty that got punished. A shivering Irosun answered, ‘Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po’.”
Globally, many women and men have been wrongly accused of not being the mothers and fathers to their biological children because they are chimeras.
Who should she forgive – DNA testing machine or her unbelieving husband – the woman wrongly accused of infidelity because the genotype of her child doesn’t match that of the biological father? Can she even ever forgive?
Who should he blame, DNA testing machine or his fate, the man wrongly denied the joy of fatherhood because he is a chimera?
What is chimerism?
According to the European Journal of Medical Genetics, scientificamerican.com, and healthline.com, a chimera is generally an animal or human that contains the cells of two or more individuals – that is, their bodies contain two different sets of DNA, with the code to make two separate organisms.
Scientificamerican.com says, “One way that chimeras can happen naturally in humans is that a foetus can absorb its twin. This can occur with fraternal twins, if one embryo dies very early in pregnancy, and some of its cells are “absorbed” by the other twin. The remaining foetus will have two sets of cells, its own original set, plus the one from its twin.”
Healthline.com says microchimerism, which is another form of natural chimerism, most commonly occurs in humans when a pregnant woman absorbs a few cells from her foetus, adding that the opposite may also happen, where a foetus absorbs a few cells from its mother. “These cells may travel into the mother’s or foetus’s bloodstream and migrate to different organs,” it says.
This is also a form of natural chimerism. It happens when two different sperm cells fertilise two different egg cells. Then, these cells all fuse together into one human embryo with crossed cell lines.
“Artificial chimerism,” according to healthline.com, “occurs when a person receives a blood transfusion, stem cell transplant, or bone marrow transplant from another person and absorbs some of that person’s cells. This is called artificial chimerism.
“Artificial chimerism was more common in the past. Today, transfused blood is usually treated with radiation. This helps the transfusion or transplant recipient to better absorb the new cells without permanently incorporating them into their body.”
Cases of chimerism
In its September 2020 publication, the European Journal of Medical Genetics says human chimeras have been described for nearly 70 years by experts but the phenomenon gained public attention in the last 20 years with three high-profile media reports of coincidental findings during parentage testing.
The issue of the American woman, Karen Keegan, mentioned in the first part of this article, was a high-profile case of chimerism reported in 2002, in Boston, when genetic tests were conducted on her as she prepared to receive a kidney from any of her family members. After the tests, it was ‘discovered’ that two of Keegan’s three sons were not hers.
Another high-profile case of chimerism was that of another American, Lydia Fairchild, who had to be videoed at childbirth when genetic tests showed that she wasn’t the mother of her two sons when she applied for assistance for them from the State of Washington. She was subsequently charged with fraud. Even her third childbirth showed she wasn’t the mother of the child. After an extensive medical investigation, however, the genetic composition of her children matched a second DNA lineage found in the narrow tube that connects her vagina to her uterus.
The third reported case of chimerism was that of an unnamed 34-year-old man in California who, in 2015, failed a paternity test after the child was found to have AB blood group while both parents were A. According to an article, How a Man’s Unborn Twin Fathered His Child, published in Times magazine, the sperm that fertilised the wife’s egg belonged to the man’s unborn twin.
A June 2021 article published by The Embryo Project Encyclopedia paraphrased Policy Professor at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, Sheldon Krimsky, and genetics expert, Tania Simoncelli, warning in their 2012 book, Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties, that human chimerism could potentially upend the US court system’s reliance on DNA evidence, citing Fairchild and Keegan as case studies.
But, in a response, legal professor David H. Kaye, in an article, Chimeric Criminals, published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology in 2013, debunks the assertion by Krimsky and Simoncelli.
Kaye, however, ‘acknowledges human chimerism should be a consideration in DNA testing, given its unknown frequency, but rejects the statement that it is a significant obstacle to its use in forensic investigation’.
Kaye also agrees that any human could display some traits of chimerism because there are numerous ways one could be considered a chimera.
Appearance and Reality are, oftentimes, at variance. When serious nations of the world are honestly fighting corruption, the Nigerian government has done everything to shield its son, DCP Abba Kyari, from facing criminal prosecution in the US for fraud.
I watched the video of Kano Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, dancing with a spurting hose as he washed a vehicle at a car wash inauguration. I think Nigerians shall soon see the launching of the babaringa with the biggest pocket in Kano.
NB: I thank Kemi Samuel, secondary schoolmate and London-based registered nurse, for sharing her knowledge on chimerism with me. God bless Kemo!
Facebook: @tunde odesola