Today Agatha and I talked about birth traditions in the North. It all started because my language book asked me for a greeting at the naming ceremony and I didn’t really remembere one. Agatha, my language and culture teacher, took the opportunity to tell me all about the birth traditions.
When the female relatives of a woman notice she is pregnant they greet her one morning just outside her bedroom door and blow ash in her face. It is to assure a safe birth. Agatha says it’s amazing how well these women can tell when it’s time for the pregnant woman to give birth. About 2 weeks before she is to give birth they call her mother. The woman lives with her husbands family so they call the mother to come be with her daughter. At that time the husband moves out of the bedroom and the mother sleeps with her pregnant daughter. The in-laws call for the mother because they think that there are things a woman can only talk to her mother about.
The pregnant woman’s mother will talk to her daughter during the two weeks to learn how the pregnancy went and she will decide if they need a birth attendant or if the women of the house can see to the birth. If the pregnant woman had a difficult pregnancy then the traditional birth attendant will be called. Agatha says women often give birth just squatting down and pushing out the baby.
After birth only very near relatives and very good friends can visit for 2 weeks. The visit must be short. They believe if a woman talks too much after birth it is not good for her. The new mother does not leave the room except to take care of her bodily functions. Her mother remains in the bed with her and at night. In the night after the new mother feeds the baby the grandmother takes the baby and cares for it and gets it back to sleep. Thus the new mother gets the rest she needs.
Baby boys remain in the room for 3 months. And baby girls remain in the room for 4 months. The room is kept warm by a portable fireplace. This helps the baby get strong enough to face the elements.
Up until the time the baby can leave the room they are called the stranger. On the morning when the baby is going to leave the room someone gets up very early and goes to the soothsayer to give the baby it’s name. Then in the crossroads the person crosses three sticks for a boy and four sticks for a girl. He pours ash on the sticks and says “You are a stranger no more. You have decided to stay with us. We name you…..”
In the North names are often chosen to represent and event in the parent’s life or after a family member but the parents must go to the village priest to be sure the name is the right name. As well as the name Agatha, Agatha was also given a name that means ‘Let them come, I forgive them.” This name represents her father’s feelings about someone who had done him harm in the past.
There are many good reasons for these traditions. I remember my mom taking Rebecca after the 1:00 am feeding and tending her while John and I slept. It was very good to get some sleep right after giving birth. The new mother staying in the room for 2 weeks is also a good way for her to recover and get some needed rest. and as nice as it is to introduce the new baby to family and friends a couple of weeks grace period sounds good to me! The new mom and baby will not get over tired.
Naming after three or four months just makes sense because of the high infant mortality rate. It sure made my heart sink when Agatha said they called the baby a stranger and then said at the time of naming little stranger you have decided to stay with us. Keeping the baby in for 3-4 months also shows concern about infant mortality.