Tradition and my baby

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Since I have become a mother I have gained insight into the traditions in the African culture. I must admit being the urban Xhosa and multicultural woman had its shortcomings...

Because I am not married, when I fell pregnant with my son I had to break the news to my mother so that my mother could break the news to the family. It was a big deal and I just did not understand how something so sacred had to suddenly become everybody’s business.

Once my family learned the news, a group of elders from my family had to go and negotiate with my boyfriend’s family on my behalf. These negotiations normally take place in the sixth month of the pregnancy because you are not allowed to tell before then. This is a measure to prevent evil spirits attacking the foetus.

I questioned why they should speak on my behalf I can have a word with my boyfriend about this…surely it’s my child? My mother’s response was: ’This child you are carrying belongs to an entire family and an entire community and we have to make sure that he is properly introduced, same like we did you, it’s only fair is it not?.’

So right from the beginning your family knows about your child, as does your partner’s family. The child can have a sense of belonging and also be at liberty to trace his lineage.

Paying for damages

A girl who is not married is referred to as a maiden and therefore marriageable, but if she falls pregnant, the father has to pay damages to her family. He pays inkomo yobulungaa/cow that reconciles. After the damages, an amount of money has to be paid as ilobola, to be used to the benefit of the baby. This is also to show that the father’s family accepts the child as their own and as such there will be a relationship between the two families.

The baby takes the mother’s surname because the child will grow up with the mother’s family. The child takes the mother’s surname but not the clan name.

My only issue with the damages payment was that my boyfriend had already paid about R30 000 at a private hospital where I gave birth. Suddenly being pregnant outside of marriage was proving to be expensive.

Imbeleko
Imbeleko is a ceremony that is conducted on the 10th day after the baby is born, or later. This is an act of detaching the umbilical connection from the mother and introducing the child to the ancestors. Directly translated, imbeleko means the act of giving birth or to carry on your back.

A goat is slaughtered as a sign of sacrifice to the ancestors. The mother has to eat a piece of meat cut from the foreleg of the goat. The elders of the family normally speak and ask the ancestors to accept, guide and protect the child. This is a common practice in cultures like the Zulu, Xhosa, Kikuyu, Shona, Ashanti and many more.

Though I protested and questioned a lot of things it made sense to me in the end. My son was being introduced to his forefathers and he was becoming a part of a family - a community that wishes him well - and to me this is very noble. 

Do you think tradition has any role to play in parenting or is it old-fashioned?

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