Sunday, November 30, 2008

A baby baptism and naming ceremony

The star of the show: Baby Zebbo

This last Sunday our family had the joy to go to a baptism and naming ceremony for the new son of one of Paul's good friends (Harouna the welder). We spent many hours over the day there and fully enjoyed learning how the ceremony and culture works in regards to baptisms. They are very important in this culture and are huge celebrations for the family and everyone they know.

I have included below a bunch of pictures I took through-out the day. Harouna asked me to come and video the event and I took over 200 still images too, all which we put on a disc with the videos as a gift for the family. They did also hire an african man to video the event, which he did with an old camera. Paul got to see his video and said that we (the white family!) seemed to be in much more of the video than the baby and family. We were the main attractions apparently!

The other camera man following me around.

Also, i have written an explantion (as given by my tutor) into the culture and what happens at these events for your learning pleasure!

Baptisms in Niger (generally the same for all the cultures with small variations)

Exactly one week after the baby is born there is the baptism.This should be observed for the best "honoring" of the customs and the date is fixed. The day of the actual birth (tankahari), the family eats well that day to celebrate. Possibly they will eat pieces of goat or sheep if they can afford it, but not necessarily.

For the first week the mom cannot go out with the baby. In fact, she cannot leave the baby's side. They believe in this first week that evil spirits are surrounding and wanting the baby. If she has to go to the bathroom, she will place a special knife under the head of the baby to protect him from spirits and possession.

The night before the baptism, there is a “fayandi”. The people who are helping prepare food for the baptism arrive. There is a party and music and dancing. They stay up most of the night dancing and music and preparing all the food and dishes for the party and starting the sauces, etc.

Very early the morning of the baptism, they get the sheep ready. In the muslim tradition it is mandatory that a sheep is killed, blood must flow. Even the poorest try to do this. If they absolutely cannot afford it they will try to get something that is white such as milk, finely ground millet that is white and sugar. Normally the early morning meal is sauce with bread for those who arrive for the naming and prayers. At around 7:00 am the Imam arrives and many friends. The men gather around the Imam for the presentation and prayers. The drummer walks around and pounds his drum and lets people know they are starting. The Imam says prayers for the baby and blessings on him. After the prayers they pass around plates with cola nuts and dates. This is the parents offering to Gods spirit and to share with the others.

After the prayers and nuts, the father and friends and a religious leaders go to the sheep. The father tells the name to the Imam, the Imam announces to God the name of the child, and at this moment they slit the throat of the animal (usually a sheep) and the blood flows. The drummer waits to hear the name of the child and see the blood flow, and then runs around, drumming and announcing the name of the child for everyone to hear.

People who need to work all leave after this (especially if it is in the middle of the week). The drummer walks around with a plate of henna, cola nuts, sugar, etc -all that represents the baptism. Men will give money onto this plate for the drummers. Before the people leave they all give money to the father (not in all cultures) this is the way they contribute to the costs and ceremonies, and know it comes back on them when it is their turn to have children or weddings. It represents an interesting way to do credit for expensive undertakings like a baptism or marriage. The women and close friends give small monetary gifts to the mother. Meals are served all day to the guests who arrive.

Here the women are dishing up the meal. It has approximately one hundred kilos of rice, a whole sheep, 10 litres of oil, 10 bags of macaroni and vegetables. They filled up 30 or so huge platters covered in food. I tried to help, and they mostly wouldn't let me, but finally humoured me and let me carry platters of rice to get the sauce added and hand them out to people.

This picture is of the main mid-day meal they served. Actually quite tasty! The men and women eat seperated from each other. They eat in groups around a big platter and eat with their right hand only. We taught Bennett this and he stuck his left hand in his pocket for safe keeping. He sure loved eating with his hands!

During the day people come and go. The mother is still in the room with the baby and and a few friends. People (family and special guests) are allowed to enter and greet the mother and family. We were invited into this inner room, and while we were there during the day, we also met the Burkina Faso Ambassador to Niger, a cabinet Minister and a few other important people. How humbling to be lumped into the same level of honor with people of high positions.

Visiting with the family and baby in the "inner room"

The parents, the Burkina Ambassador and a Cabinet Minister and Paul

The mother must stay for 40 days in what the tamasheqs call “amzor”. This means that she doesn’t work, she doesn’t go out unless to go the bathroom. You could say she is hibernating. This helps with milk production for breastfeeding, the baby is very fragile and she must be there, and it is the tradition. Someone has come for these 40 days to take care of her house, help with the children and make meals. The 41st day, to show she is done, a imam comes to the house . If it is a boy they will circumcise him and will shave his head. Girls heads are shaved too. (in other countries ad cultures they sometimes still practice female circumcision! thankfully not in Niger!). The Imam will offer more blessings for the child. The father is now authorized to sleep in the same bed as the mom (even to sleep was not permitted). The mother is free now to continue her life, work, go out,etc.

After getting over a little bit of shy-ness, or maybe just being socially unsure in this cultural setting, I managed to find this group of young women who were hilarious and very welcoming to me. We had a wonderful time laughing and telling stories and hanging out together. At times I am sure I completely missed what they were saying, and they laughed AT me as much as WITH me, but we had fun all the same!

A delightful young woman who showed me around and introduced me to people. She is married, has a child already, and I think she isn't even 20 yet.

The cast of characters throughout the day:


Carrie said...

Great pictures as usual Chantelle. It is so great to be able to learn of other people's lives, traditions and beliefs! Thanks for all the info!

Anonymous said...

Magnificently beautiful women I thought. Thanks for the documentary and amazing pixs again. heather