Egypt, Indonesia, Hawaii
A Functional Dance
Egypt in 19,000 B.C. Belly dancing, often thought of as entertainment for men, is actually a form of ancient dance that reflected the body as a creation of nature and temple of the soul. It was originally a dance performed by women in honor of the giver of life, the Great Mother. The gyrations of the hip were believed to insure the births of future generations, and were used in preparation for birth. The laboring mother would squat low and bear down as she rolled her abs. The contractions of the dancing movements strengthened her abdominal muscles and therefore aided in an easier delivery.
Gotta Have Faith
Ancient Malaysia and Indonesia. Women labored sitting up, without medicine for pain relief. Instead, a Dukun, or midwife, would massage the expectant mom. The delivery occurred in the birthing room, traditionally within the house, as it was believed that a baby's first cry was a cry of loyalty and respect for the parents, and should be heard at home. Other mothers stayed in the birthing room with the laboring woman, and offered advice and support (in a similar style of today's labor coaches). Upon birth, the Dukun cuts the cord, bathes and wraps the baby in a blanket. Next, words of Allah were whispered into the baby's ear; for words of faith were supposed to be the first the baby would hear. The baby was then returned to its mother and introduced to the grandparents, which was the first act of honor shown by baby to its family. The placenta was then washed and placed in an earthenware pot with spices and kept near the mother. After 40 days, the family buried the placenta in the ground.
A Place of Their Own
Ancient Hawaii. Among the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, between the towns of Wahiawa and Haleiwa, ancient Hawaiian women, pregnant with potential royalty, or alii, gave birth. Potential alii could not be delivered like a commoner, without celebration -- today, we see this birth seclusion when celebrities like Britney Spears deliver their children in special hospitals and birthing centers. It is believed the rocks contained powers to ease labor pains. Rituals surrounding the birth of aliis include 48 chiefs beating drums in the announcement of the arrival of the newborns who, in the future, could become chiefs.
Practices Not Lost
Modern women would be surprised to know that a number of birth rituals from the past have been translated into our culture. The art of midwifery, the practice of massaging the pregnant belly during birth, medicine-free births, and the idea of silence during birth are only a few of these rituals. Who knows, these birthing rituals, and others, may continue to be passed through time bonding women from ancient civilizations and future generations together.
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, April 2006.
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