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Differences and similarities in birth rituals and beliefs of the Samoans and Pygmies

The human lifecycle is biologically determined stages of development and is culturally understood and experienced. The rite of passage is any lifecycle ritual that marks a person or group’s transition from one social state to another. Arnold Van Gennep was an ethnographer known for his studies of the rites of passage of various cultures. Van Gennep found that certain kinds of rituals around the world had similar structures. These were ritually associated with the movement of people from one position in the social structure to another; things like births, initiations, weddings and funerals. They all began with a period of separation from the old position and from normal time, the rites of separation. The second stage involves a period of transition, in which the participant is no longer in the old stage but not yet in the new known as the rites of transition.

Victor Turner called this the liminal period, the dangerous limbo between stages. The final stage is rites of incorporation when the individual is reintroduced into society in his or her new position (Gennep, 1960). This essay will compare and contrast the physiologic labor and birth rituals and beliefs of the Samoans and the Mbuti Pygmies’ societies. Samoans are the residents of a chain of islands in the central South Pacific Ocean, Western Samoa and American Samoa.

Margaret Mead is an American anthropologist who wrote Coming of Age in Samoa in American Samoa; the book is based upon her first fieldwork in American Samoa on the study of youth. Coming of Age in Samoa shares an insight on the physiologic labor and birth rituals in Meads eyes. The birth of the Samoan baby is much appreciated and cherished more than birthdays and this is because the Samoans believe the birth is more significant in ones life and is celebrated with a gigantic feast. The mother must give birth in the mother’s village even if the mother does not currently live in her village. During pre-birth, which is the period usually six months preceding a child’s birth the father’s sides of the family usually shower the soon-to-be mother with gifts of food and the mother’s side are making mats, bark cloth and clothes for the baby.

Samoans have culturally mediated childbirth beliefs such as the umbilical cord should not be cut until it is done pulsating and is cut with a bamboo knife. Depending on the baby’s gender, they would throw the cord somewhere and believe that it would benefit the baby in the future. If it is a baby girl, the cord is buried under a mulberry tree (the tree which bark cloth is made) to ensure her growing up to be industrious at household tasks; for a boy it is thrown into the sea that he may be a skilled fisherman, or planted under a taro plant to give him industry in farming. (Mead,1930). They also believed that breastfeeding is important, 78% of Samoans exclusively breastfeed. Women breastfeed immediately after delivery, and infants are fed on demand. Most children are breastfed for 2 years as it is the simplest device for pacifying its crying. (Ibid).

Pregnant women labor and deliver with only female elders present. She is not allowed to cry out in pain, and she endures pain as a sign of strength, which was another belief of theirs. If she mistakenly cries, the female elders will remind her with a slap across the face. There is no privacy about a birth. Convection dictates that the mother should neither writhe, nor cry out, nor inveigh against the presence of twenty or thirty people in the house who sit up all night if need be, laughing, joking, and playing games. (Ibid). No pain medications are used pre, during and post the birth. Pulling expels the placenta, and the husband assists by applying force by massaging the abdomen. After delivery women receive abdominal and pelvic floor massage to correct any displacement that may have occurred during labor. They would then bathe after delivery.

During post-birth the mother goes back to her husband’s side with exchanged gifts from her family. This was the end of the Samoans physiologic labor and birth rituals and beliefs… the new baby ceases to be much of interest to anyone. Its first steps or first word are remarked without exuberant comment, without ceremony. It has lost all ceremonially ignored until she is married.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is where the Mbuti Pygmies come from. They are an ancient group of hunters and gatherers known as the forest people. When the pregnant women’s water breaks two midwives hold her, each from a side and walk with her to the river to deliver the baby. At the time of the pain, she will walk and sing and be joyous.

The birth itself is easy, quick and natural as the midwives effortlessly take the pregnant woman through the process, a tremendous feeling of oneness. (Hallet, 1973) As soon as they reach the river the midwives begin breathing with pregnant woman while she squats. When the baby is ready it is delivered after a hold of breath. The umbilical cord has a narrow part. This is the place where, if a baby were dropped from the womb of a standing mother, the weight of the child would be enough to break that cord at that point. It is bitten by one of the midwives and gently squeezed till cut. To ensure that the baby is able to breath properly the other midwife immediately holds the baby upside down, washes the upper part of the body and returns the newborn to their mother expecting her to breastfeed them. Breastfeeding lasts for 5 years for the Pygmi baby.

In celebration of the birth of her child the mother sings a traditional song right after. After the birth, the father asks for permission to enter after the mother and her newborn are back to their dome hut, and must clap his hands and thank his wife for delivering their child. The first year of a Pygmy baby is considered to be a very blissful year. They rarely cry during this year, as they are never separated from the mother. When a baby cries it does not last for long due to the mothers immediate attention. Breastfeeding is the typical and easiest solution to stop the baby from crying. They are satisfied in all of their requirements.Maintaining skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby is necessary for the first six months of the baby’s life. Even if the baby was cold and needed warmth, the mother would wrap herself and the baby around with a cloth, maintaining the skin-to-skin contact. These certain traditions are preformed in order to ensure the child into enjoying life and becoming a naturally sociable and responsible human.

Birth rites are complicated spiritual or religious rituals usually celebrated by the mother, the father, the relatives and the members of the society. This essay explored the differences and similarities found in the physiologic labor process and birth rituals and beliefs of the Samoans and Pygmies. According to both societies they both believe that the birth of a newborn is a spiritual female celebration. Another common belief between the two societies is that the labor of the baby should be performed in an area away from the current living location of the mother. They share the importance of breastfeeding as well, despite the fact that the period of the breastfeeding itself differs. After the birth of the baby the umbilical cord is cut differently in both areas. The Samoans cut it with a bamboo knife whereas the Pygmies bite it and cut it using their fingers. The Samoans find where the umbilical cord is buried after cut positively affecting the future of the baby.

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