"Some people come into our lives and quickly leave. Others come into our lives and leave such an impression that they stay with us for all time." Docia Zavitkovsky
At the 2002 World Forum in New Zealand, Jane Nkomo, a citizen of Zimbabwe studying in Australia, compared traditional and current child rearing practices in Zimbabwe. Here is an excerpt from her discussion of traditional ways...
"As soon as the couple is customarily married, both the bride's and bridegroom's families await the news of conception with eagerness, because having children gives a woman dignity in her new home, and her in-laws, especially the father in-law, are happy that the family name is being perpetuated. When the pregnancy is advanced, say at six or seven months, the woman goes back to her home where she is to remain until she gives birth. She is escorted through a colourful ceremony by her husband's relatives. They are happy that she is pregnant. They celebrate the pregnancy.
"One or two elderly women are appointed to be in charge of the expectant mother and give her prenatal education and care. One of these women is a traditional midwife. All problems associated with pregnancy, such as labour pains, are dealt with. Her own mother also gives her medicine that will make her deliver without problems. Her diet is watched closely. Okra constitutes her main diet during this period, as it is believed that it aids smooth, quick delivery.
"Soon after birth, the mother and the infant are kept in seclusion (in a hut) for about a week, or until the umbilical cord drops. This is aimed at protecting the infant from evil sprits. During this period the midwife gives the infant different medicines to strengthen him against evil forces, when it finally comes out of seclusion. The infant's bath water is secretly thrown away, or a pit is dug near the door into which the bath water is thrown and covered to protect the infant from witchcraft. When the umbilical cord drops, a special medicine is smeared to treat the child. The cord is tied around the child's waist during the seclusion period, before it is thrown away.
"Before this young mother goes back to her marital home, the child is given a name. At this child naming ceremony, the infant receives gifts, and its father expresses his gratitude by giving the midwife a goat. At this point, perhaps mention should be made that before the introduction of the European monetary system, domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats were regarded as standard currency. A man who had these in large numbers felt no less than a man with a large bank balance. And especially in those days before most people became Christians, sheep and goats were used for various religious sacrifices and purifications. Money, except for the purpose of buying these domestic animals, had little meaning and had no religious or sentimental associations within the people's custom.
"When the young mother finally returns to her marital home, she is welcomed back with honour. She receives congratulatory gifts. Relatives and neighbours also supply food and home-brewed beer. This exchange of gifts is governed by the principle of 'give and take. Anyone who does not cooperate in accordance with the laws of the community is boycotted for his individualistic attitude. The role of the nuclear family is important but Africans believe in doing things collectively.
"Behind all this happiness
is the fact that the young mother has fulfilled her womanhood role; lineage
is revived, especially if the baby is a boy, and the paternal name lives on."
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