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Iban childbirth customs recorded by Rev William Howell

Every culture has its own customs and taboos during childbirth.

These customs and tradition mainly have one sole purpose; to protect the mother and her newborn baby from harm.

Here are Iban childbirth customs as per recorded by Rev William Howell:

When the time of delivery is come and while she is in travail, two or three midwives are called to her assistance to accelerate the birth of the child.

As soon as the child make its appearance into the world, a signal is given by beating a bamboo receptacle with a stick, or a brass gong is struck or maybe a gun is fired to announce that a child is born in the house.

Immediately follows a religious ceremony, a fowl being waved over the heads of all present, including the infant and its mother. The fowl is then killed and the blood is smeared on the foreheads of those present.

After the mother and the child are washed and dressed, the afterbirth is deposited in a plaited bag and hung on a tree either in their cemetery or in their tembawai (the site of their former house). The infant is sprinkled with a compound of pinang (betelnut) and lawang, is bandaged and made to lie on the spathe of an areca palm, a cloth is put round it and a Dayak sheet hung over it.

The husband or whoever takes away the afterbirth to bury or hang on tree is solemnly warned by the mother not to look to the right or to the left as he leaves the room, or the child might squint.

One of the women who assisted at the birth washes the child and cuts the umbilical cord.

She is afterwards with a parang, an entadu plate, and a long piece of the black tina (black split rattan worn around the waist).

The mother is seated with her back against the blazing fire; she drinks freely ginger tea to facilitate her discharge.

The bathing of the newborn

As soon as the umbilical cord has dropped off, the infant, for the first time, is taken to the bathing place.

The man who carries the child takes a fowl with him. As soon as they come to the bathing place the fowl is killed and a wing is cut off.

If it be a male child this wing is tied on with a piece of red thread to a spear, and if the child be the other sex this wing is tied on to an implement used by Dayak women in weaving (lelatan). On the fourth day the spear or the lelatan, as the case may be, is taken to the house.

As the mother sits with her back to the fire in the room holding in her hands the handle of a native adze (bliong) she presses it to her stomach to assist the course of nature.

For twenty-four hours she is not allowed to drink water, but if she does, it must be very little and first warmed lest fever should set in.

Her first food is light and simple. The husband goes out to get certain kinds of fish which is first smoked before it is eaten.

The mother is not allowed to sleep for twenty-four hours after giving birth to a child, not is she even allowed to lie down. One would think that after such a fatiguing time, a rest was most essential and to be deprived of it would be detrimental to health. Strange to say it is not so.

Can you imagine for the woman not being able to lie down or sleep for twenty-hours after giving birth?

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Let us know what other Iban childbirth customs that you know more about in the comment box.

Read more about Iban pregnancy taboos here.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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