On May 11, 1811 Chang and Eng, the first famous set of conjoined twins, were born. Chang and Eng Bunker were the first set of conjoined twins to be brought to international attention. Because they were born in Thailand, which was then called Siam, they were called Siamese twins. However, in the village where they were born, they were known as the “Chinese Twins” because their parents were from China.
Joined at the chest by cartilage, the pair became part of a world tour organized by British merchant Robert Hunter to satisfy the public’s curiosity about the phenomenon. After ten years of performing for audiences around the world, the twins went into business for themselves as tobacco farmers, settling in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and even becoming U.S. citizens (at which time they adopted the name Bunker). They married two sisters in 1843 and fathered twenty-one children between them. It wasn’t until after their death that doctors realized they could easily have been separated, since they were only connected externally by a thick band of ligament and shared no vital organs.
Chang and Eng began their development as identical twins and started down the path to becoming two physically separate but genetically identical people. However, at some point early in their fetal development, conjoined twins stop separating from each other in the womb and begin to develop bodies that are connected. Some conjoined twins, like Chang and Eng, are only connected superficially and can be easily separated. Others share a more complex physical connection which poses more of a challenge for separation, and some are so closely joined by their internal organs that they simply cannot survive without each other.
Identical twins, conjoined or not, provide us with amazing insight into the human mind because they provide us with the opportunity to examine how much of a person’s personality is determined by their genes.
Chang and Eng Bunker rose to fame as “freaks”, but became successful, independent people in their own rights, while shedding light on a rare condition. Happy Birthday, Chang and Eng, way to be cool!