Birth Rituals in Sanaa [Archives:1998/39/Culture]

September 28 1998

Celebrating the arrival of a new family member involves quite elaborate ceremonies in most of the world. The traditions vary from country to another, and even within a country. This article is concerned with rituals in Sanaa.
First of all, many goods are purchased in preparation for giving birth. Tobacco, coal, and coffee are the most important things to buy to entertain the well-wishers and visitors. From the day of delivery and up to 40 days afterwards, coffee, tea, hubble bubble and qat are offered to visiting relatives, neighbors and friends. Ten days after delivery, a place is set aside for the proud mother within the sitting room.
A lot of women are invited to attend the mawlid ceremony, which involves recital of some verses from the holy Quran as well as chanting religious songs.
A week after that, comes the coffee party. Some of the relatives and friends buy lentils and raisins and make cakes and cookies. They make coffee and tea with milk and invite other women to the mother’s house to eat bora’aee (a dish made of lentils).
One month after the birth-date, a party is held for the mother. They adorn her hands and feet with henna. She wears a traditional dress and puts some sprigs of basil in her hair. The sitting room is furnished with nice looking mats. Copies of the Holy Quran are placed in prominent places around the house. Moreover, a special bed is prepared for the mother. Again, nice convivial songs are sung for her. Women keep on pouring in until 40 days after the actual delivery.
A woman from Sanaa explains the ceremony. “Immediately after delivery, at least 5 copies of the Holy Quran are placed in the mother’s home. Sometimes, her room is decorated with tinsel and colored lamps. We prepare a special bed for her in the sitting room, on which she sleeps for at least 15 days after delivery. Until she completes a month or 40 days, visiting neighbors and friends sing for her. We offer the visitors coffee, cakes, biscuits and nuts. One of her family members – usually her mother or sister, has to buy the mother some expensive clothes.”
What you need for the ceremony:
1. Three to 8 hubble bubbles.
2. Large quantities of coffee husks, ginger, cinnamon, barley, sugar, fennel, coal and tobacco.
3. Shathab (a plant known to expel evil spirits).
4. From 3 to 5 mats to be fixed on the walls of the mother’s room.
5. A photograph of the family members.
6. Copies of the Holy Quran.
7. Home-raised chicken, honey and eggs.
8. Daily purchase of meat for the first 10 days following delivery.
9. Money to be given to the mother.
During the 40 days following delivery, the mother does not do any house work. She only takes care of the baby and leaves the rest to her sisters-in-law and mother-in-law. Her mother, though, comes to help them during the first ten days. They attend to all her different needs, including cooking nourishing food for her.
Nobody eats with the new mother during the first 10 days after delivery. She takes five meals a day. Early in the morning, she takes her breakfast. She eats again at 11 o’clock and has lunch at 1:30 pm. She has her dinner at 6:00 pm and eats again at 10:00 in the evening. She has to eat one home-raised chicken a day in order to recuperate. (Chicken from poultry farms won’t do.) Throughout these 40 days, especially during the first two weeks, the mother does not drink water. Instead, she drinks a lot of coffee.
On the 40th day, the mother wears a new traditional dress, including the osbah (a very expensive type of head scarf). An osbah may cost at least YR 7,000.
These long celebrations and rituals cost a lot of money.
By: Ms. Khairiya Al-Shibibi,
Stringer for Yemen Times.