Nononke

Ethnographic notes from a people group in Mali

Posts Tagged ‘ritual’

Birth rituals

Posted by maggie on August 3, 2008

The Nononke have several rituals connected to birth and name giving. Nowadays most women in the village give birth in the maternity ward which is part of the small village health center. Women who feel that their time has come walk to the maternity ward on their own and a few hours after giving birth they walk back to their home. If they live in a neighboring village they are transported on a donkey cart. Before giving the breast for the first time, they give nasi (‘quranic water’) to the child to drink. Only after their return to the house do the traditional taboos start to apply. The new mother and the baby have to stay on their mattress and if possible under the mosquito net for a whole week until the name giving ceremony. The baby is never left alone, even when the mother goes to the outhouse, then another child has to lie down beside the baby. Twice a day a traditional midwife, called the ‘washer of the newborn’ (yɛɛye ɲini ya), comes to wash mother and child. She also buries the placenta in a special place and it is over this exact spot that the mother has to be washed. She then washes the newborn seven times in the morning and seven times in the evening. Every time the newborn is soaped from head to toe and than rinsed off. One purpose is to prevent the newborn from becoming a smelly person by sweating a lot. Afterwards she does all kinds of physical ‘exercises’ with the newborn, that look fairly brutal to an outsider, by pulling the arms in all directions. This has the purpose to enable the child to become strong and do heavy work. She also massages the head so that it gets a ‘beautiful’ shape. Because of all these washings a lot of water is needed which is provided during the first week by other women of the village who draw water from the well and bring it to the house. There is a constant flow of visitors (with and without water) who come to say their blessings and bring gifts. Often they are honored by letting them hold the child. Frequently live chickens are given because the mother should be nourished through chicken broth and chicken meat. Nobody else will eat from it. From the first day on the mother will force pure butter into the baby’s mouth. There is also a certain way of braiding the hair of a new mother. The mother is not allowed to leave the house or she will die.

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