About this collection

This collection hosts interviews with people talking about beliefs and rituals connected with newborn babies and young children.

Birth related rituals consist of three main stages: (1) pre-birth (conception and pregnancy), (2) childbirth and (3) post-birth rituals. Pre-birth rituals are performed as a way of asking supernatural entities - gods, ancestors and spirits of nature - to grant the prospective parents children and to ensure a healthy pregnancy for the expecting mother. Whilst they could be performed for individual women, these rituals often constitute a part of larger clan-oriented rituals where the needs of all clan members and the continuation of the clan itself (which requires new babies) are addressed collectively in ritualised settings.

Childbirth is both an auspicious and polluting event. It is polluting because it involves bodily fluids and opens the gates between the two worlds - the world of the living and the spiritual world - attracting various spirits in the process. The husband, who is not supposed to be present at the actual birth, has a duty to stay outside and protect his wife and newborn child from harmful spirits. Kalmyks in Astrakhan, for example, have a custom whereby the husband puts a fishing net outside the house and whips the air to keep evil spirits at bay.

Childbirth is an auspicious and miraculous event because it brings a new member to the family and clan. The newborn is accompanied by two benevolent spirits, one of which gives the child life and the other which measures the child's time in this world. In order to facilitate childbirth, the woman in labour is given hot butter to drink. All locks in the house are to be unlocked, boxes and drawers pulled out, and gates opened.

After birth, the newborn is introduced to his/her cradle' (olgyad or ulkh) and when the baby is bit older, some parents arrange an outing to show their baby to relatives.

Since names are believed to have the power to determine one's life, name-giving is another important ritual for the family.

The next milestone in a Kalmyk child's life is the ritual of the first haircut which is performed when the child is either 1 or 3. During the ritual, the first lock of hair is cut by the child's maternal uncle. The lock is then wrapped in a white cloth and kept by the parents.

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