Ritual for a new mother

Recently, I was reading Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet. It is the second in a series of graphic novels telling the story of a young woman, Aya, growing up on the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s. The joys and worries of the characters are themes universal among people growing up anywhere but the pages are rich with the colours, styles and sounds of the author’s childhood home. As an extra in the back of the book, Abouet includes some recipes, tips and explanations relating to the story and its environs. One part of this is an explanation of the attitude to raising children and the ritual that happens when a child is born. I thought the ritual sounded like a great example of a non-religious cultural ritual or ceremony so I’ve included an excerpt below.

The baby and you are promptly looked after.
Your mother heats some water and massages your whole body, especially the belly. Next she slathers you in shea butter and you go shower. Then she slathers you in shea butter again and wraps your belly (if you haven’t had a caesarian, of course). Afterward, she dresses you and does your hair (you couldn’t get better treatment at a spa).

During this time, a team made up of your grandmother (if you still have one) and great aunts takes care of your baby. They massage its head with a warm washcloth (so that it’s head becomes nice and round) and then its whole body (to make it nice and firm). When that’s done, the baby is washed, slathered in lotion and dusted with “Bebe d’Or” talcum powder or other things, then dressed in pretty clothes.

Meawhile, another team made up of female cousins, sisters-in-law and tanties makes a delicious meal, and then it’s time to sit down to eat! You come out of your room beautiful and glowing (thanks to the shea butter) and you enjoy the special meal (that you requested) under the happy gaze of your whole family.

When you have finished your meal, your beautiful baby is returned to you so you can nurse it (yup, that’s right you’ve got to work just a little bit). After it burps, you put it down to sleep, and you can take a well-deserved nap and rest easy because your baby is being watched over by dozens of people.

The author then goes on to describe the father’s part in all this and how the baby is welcomed into the community.

While the gender roles sound a little conventional and I’m not sure whether some might find that the company a little overwhelming it does sound like I lovely way to be surrounded and supported at a very important and slightly daunting time. It sounds here that with all their needs taken care of the new parents can just concentrate on the new arrival as well as taking a well-earned rest after the birth. Also, being slathered with shea butter before and after a hot shower also sounds pretty appealing!

If you’ve enjoyed reading about this, why not try the comics?

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