Birth Related Customs

پښتو :: پښتانه :: پښتونخواه :: پښتونوالی

Birth Related Customs, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Birth Related Customs

Azim Afridi

Publishing Date: Monday, November 11 2002

The expected advent of the child is kept secret as far as possible. The expectant mother is kept secluded and only an old woman proficient in midwifery or one or two female relatives are allowed to attend to her. The birth of a female child generally passes un-noticed but the birth of a male child is a gayful event; an occasion of rejoicing and festivity. This is because of the fact that the very existence of an individual under a tribal system, largely depends upon the strength of arms and man power. Secondly the tribal society is patriarchical in structure where the law of inheritance rests with the male line. Far more importance is, therefore, attached to sons as compared to daughters. This, however, does not mean that daughters are deprived of paternal affection.

The news of a male child's birth is a happy tiding for parents as well as for near relatives. The news spreads like wild fire in the neighbourhood and messengers hasten to distant places to break the happy tidings to paternal and maternal uncles etc. This is called Zairay. The person who breaks the good news first to a near relative receives a handsome reward in cash. Relatives and friends felicitate the proud parents and let off their guns as a mark of jubilation. The father warmly receives the guests, slaughters a ram or goat and serves a sumptuous lunch to the visiting guests. Sweetmeats are also distributed among the young and old alike.

Female relatives also hurry to the house to offer congratulations to the child's parents. They bring presents, including clothes for the infant and also offer some money. A record of the money, so proffered, is kept for repayment on a similar occasion. All women who offer money are given Loopatas (Scarfs) in addition to sweetmeats.

The first important ceremony in the child's life is performed by the village Mullah or priest or an old pious man. The Mullah whispers Azaan (call to prayers or profession of faith) in his or her ears. The village Mullah receives some money for this religious service. The child is also given a dose of indigenous medicine called Ghotti. This liquid compound is administered to the child by a pious woman, preferably mother of several sons. Within seven days of the birth, the child is named as Ayub, Ali, Ishaq, Yaqoob, Aisha, Fatima etc as the custom of naming children after the Prophets, particularly Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and his companions, is very common.

The infant is wrapped in swaddling clothes with his hands tied to his body. This binding practice continues for over six months. The idea behind the binding of infants from shoulders to toes seems to be to prevent him from exhaustion or causing an injury to himself. For most of the time during the day, the child is kept in a swinging cradle which is in common use all over the sub-continent. At night the child is laid beside its mother. The child entirely belongs to the mother, she feeds it, at least, for two years and makes every possible endeavour to protect it from the malignant eye or the glance of evil spirits.

Those women who have no male issue pay visits to they holy shrines on Thursday nights and beseech the favours of the holy saints for a male child. They offer alms and sometimes bind a stone to one of the flags hanging beside a wall or tree near the saint's mazar. They add one more flag to the existing numbers when their cherished desire is realised. Those women who give birth to females in succession without any male issue, curse their misfortune and shed tears of remorse on the birth of a female child.

After the child's birth, precautionary measures are taken to protect the mother from evil spirits and genii. She does not take a bath, at least, for a fortnight after the birth of the child. The mother is never left alone in the house at least for forty days in succession for fear of evil spirits. It is generally believed that both mother and child are susceptible to the influence of genii etc during the first forty days.

The mother refrains from doing any work for a week and she resumes her usual occupations after a lapse of 40 days.

Sar Kalai (Head Shaving)

The second important ceremony in a child's life is Sar Kalai or hair cutting. When the child is about 40 days old, his or her hairs are shaved by a village barber. The barber is given some money for this service. This event is also celebrated with the slaughter of a goat or sheep for guests.

Soonat (Circumcision)

The third important ceremony is know as Soonat i.e. Circumcision of a male child. The Circumcision ceremony is again performed by the village barber when the boy is over one year old. On this occasion the boy is made to sit on an earthen platter called Khanak in the compound of the house duly attended by his relatives. They also offer some money to the child. This ceremony is observed by well-to-do persons with pomp and sumptuous feast.

Schooling

In the fourth stage the child, generally is sent to a Mullah in the village mosque for religious education, including learning by heart of  Namaz and reading of the Holy Quran. He is first taught Kalma Tayyaba and later other tenets of Islam. He also starts going to school at the age of five to six years. Along with spiritual and temporal education he makes a debut in sports of masculine nature, including wrestling called Parzawal. Later he adopts shooting as his hobby. After school hours he goes on shooting excursions and shoots down birds. He uses a catapult like weapon called Ghulail for hunting. In this stage of life he develops an aptitude for sporting excursions such as target shooting and finally starts going round with a rifle slung over his shoulder for self protection. At that time he begins helping his father in his work. The young girl on the other hand assists her mother in household work and shares the domestic duties with her.

Pakhtoons are fond of rifles and young boys can be seen carrying rifles under their arms. Seldom will they be seen un-armed. Their fondness for arms is evident from a Pashto proverb that though they might not have good food they must be in possession of fine arms.

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Birth Related Customs, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)