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BIRTH TRADITIONS

Birth, the first of the turning points in life, is almost always regarded as a happy event, in Turkey as in the rest of the world. Every child that comes into the world is a source of happiness not just for its mother and father, but also for relatives, friends and neighbors. That is because every birth increases the number of family members, and increased numbers have always meant increased strength. Families belonging to small communities and ethnic groups in particular feel safer and stronger as their population increases. The common expression ‘children make the family’s kettle whistle’ is a clear emphasis of the importance attached to the matter.

On the other hand, birth also increases respect for women, and ensures their place in the family group. Infertile women experience social and psychological problems, as do men who are unable to have children since they have difficulties in taking their rightful place in the male community, no matter how much those close to them underplay the problem. The father has confidence in the future as a man with a child and gains respect among relatives and friends. In the same way that a childless woman is scorned, a man feels much the same social and psychological embarrassment because he is not regarded as man, creating a pressure imposed by his relatives and friends.

Birth, that gives the mother an identity and completes her, as well as giving confidence to the father and strength to the family, is attributed utmost importance by the couple and their relatives. Some transition customs and ceremonies accompany birth and the phases connected to it.

One of the most important transition phases in birth, the origin of life, is tradition and custom. Since birth is a turning point, belief and custom oblige women to abide by certain traditions, starting from the very desire to have children in the first place. In this way, beginning with the desire to become pregnant, the mother is encouraged to abide by hundreds of processes imposed by belief, custom and religion. Thus, the process of birth is governed by hundreds of customs, beliefs, and religious and magical rituals, starting from the woman’s wish to conceive. The customs, beliefs and traditions related to birth in Anatolia can be examined under three main headings;

  • Before Birth
  • Birth
  • After Birth.

Before Birth

The measures related to pre-birth customs, traditions, and beliefs mainly focus on avoiding infertility, conception, cravings, pregnancy, predetermining the child’s sex, and things pregnant women are expected to avoid.

Conception and avoiding infertility;

In Turkish society, it was usually the woman who was blamed when a couple failed to have a child, and the measures taken and practices followed mainly focused on her. These customary measures in the past generally consisted of;

  • Practices with a religious or magical aspect,
  • Practices of popular medicine,
  • Methods of medical treatment.

Today, men and women are equally regarded as the possible cause of any infertility, and both will undergo medical treatment. Although traditional treatment methods are still employed today, modern medical treatments generally prevail in both rural and urban areas.

Cravings (during pregnancy);

When a woman reaches this particular “craving” phase, she may avoid doing certain things. In particular, she may avoid touching particular objects and eating certain foods, or else she may feel a particular craving for certain foodstuffs. These are considered physiologically necessary to meet the lack of various substances in her body.

Such women generally avoid hot, bitter or spicy foods, or are forced to do so by those around them. That attitude is very prevalent, and can clearly be seen in the expression ‘Eat bitter food and give birth to a girl.’ Eating sweet food and consuming sweet liquids is believed to encourage the chances of having a boy. This is reflected in another saying, ‘Eat sweet things and give birth to a cavalryman.’

Pregnancy;

Pregnant women, or those who have just had children, are regarded in some sense as unwell, and treated accordingly. To put it another way, the cultural values of the pregnant woman’s peer group and the community in which she lives inspire them to regard her in that way. As a result of these values, they then expect her to behave in line with those expectations and to play a particular role.

The pregnant woman may be described as “yüklü” (loaded), “iki canlı” (with twin lives), “aÄ¿ır ayak” (slow-footed), “koynu dolu” (full-bosomed), “boÄ¿ru dolu” (full-breasted) or “guzlacı”.

The sex of the child;

One matter for considerable speculation during pregnancy is the sex of the child.

In Anatolia, estimates are made by taking into consideration;

  • The physical appearance of the woman,
  • The food the woman has consumed,
  • The attitude of the woman,
  • The length of time the child moves in the womb,
  • The form of birth pains.

Nowadays, families mostly resort to modern medical methods rather than traditional ones in matters related to the sex of the child.

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Things pregnant women are expected to avoid or do;

It has been scientifically proved that the unborn child is influenced by all its mother’s actions, from the moment of entry into the womb; in this respect, a system of beliefs applies to all those parts of Turkey where traditions still prevail.

This system of beliefs leads pregnant woman to avoid certain forms of behavior or to engage in others.

Some forms of behavior that the pregnant woman is expected to avoid during her pregnancy are:

  • Not looking at bears, monkeys, and camels,
  • Not eating fish, rabbit, trotters or sheep’s’ heads, and not chewing gum,
  • Not attend funerals or looking at the deceased,
  • Not secretly taking and eating anything.

There are various other measures taken apart from those listed above; these are forms of behavior with a positive inclination that share the same origin.

Some forms of behavior a pregnant woman is expected to engage in are;

  • Looking at the moon,
  • Looking at beautiful people,
  • Smelling roses,
  • Eating quinces, apples, green plums and grapes.

Childbirth:

In the more traditional parts of Anatolia, women used to give birth at home in their villages with the help of midwives, and the majority of practices carried out during childbirth were believed to make the whole process easier. Some of these practices were;

  • Unfastening the woman’s hair,
  • Opening locked doors, chests and windows,
  • Feeding birds,
  • A woman who had earlier had an easy labor would rub the back of the pregnant woman,
  • Shooting in the air,
  • Putting the woman on someone’s back and shaking her,
  • Making the woman jump down from a high place,
  • Making the woman lie down on a piece of cloth and rocking her.

Nowadays, childbirth takes place in hospitals, and licensed midwives help pregnant women to give birth in remote, mountainous villages.

After birth:

Practices after birth can be grouped as regarding;

  • The child’s umbilical cord and placenta,
  • Accouchement,
  • The idea of the mother-snatcher or baby-snatcher,
  • The forty-day threshold,
  • The forty-day precautions.

Child’s Umbilical Cord;

In the same way that there is a belief that the food and drink a pregnant woman consumes, and the people, animals and things she looks at all affect the child, the same belief applies to the relation between the child and the umbilical cord and placenta. That is why the child’s umbilical cord cannot be thrown away haphazardly without, it is believed, influencing the infant’s future, employment and life.

In the light of this belief, the umbilical cord;

  • is buried in the courtyard of a mosque. (For the child to be a devout person)
  • is thrown over a wall or into a school garden. (For the child to be an educated person)
  • is buried in a stable. (For the child to be an animal lover)
  • is thrown into water. (For the child to search for his/her destiny elsewhere)

The placenta is described as the end, friend, or comrade of the child. Since the placenta is regarded as part of the child, and even as the child itself, it is wrapped up and buried in a clean place in a clean piece of cloth after birth.

Since women give birth in hospitals today, practices related to the placenta have totally vanished, although customs and beliefs regarding the umbilical cord are still common.
Accouchement;

Women who have just given birth are referred to as “loÄ¿usa”, “lohsa”, “emzikli”, “loÄ¿sa”, “nevse”, or “kırklı”. The length of time a woman who has just had a baby will stay confined to bed depends on her own physiological condition, the question of whether the birth was a difficult or an easy one, climate, environmental considerations and how much the woman is loved by her family.

It is a common belief in Anatolia that women are under the influence of various supernatural forces during accouchement. “The grave of woman in accouchement is open for forty days” (the accouchement period is believed to last forty days), is a saying commonly used in traditional areas that supports this belief.

The idea of the “mother-snatcher” or “baby-snatcher”;

The mother or baby-snatcher is conceived of as disturbing women and newborn babies during accouchement and sometimes even killing them, and may be referred to as “al”, “cazı”, “cadı”, “al anası”, “al kızı”, “al karası”, “koncoloz”, “goncoloz”, and “kara koncoloz”.

People in Anatolia resort to a number of practices to protect against the mother or baby-snatcher, who is believed to live in stables, haylofts, mills, deserted ruins, wells, water sources and places where women in accouchement and newborn babies are left alone. Some of these practices are;

  • Hanging brooms, Koran, onion, garlic, and blue beads believed to protect against the evil eye in the room where the woman and newborn baby lie,
  • Inserting a needle or packing needle under the pillow of the woman or newborn baby,
  • Placing sharp tools such as daggers, sickles, knives etc. under the pillow,
  • Putting breadcrumbs and water in the room.

Practices related to the mother or baby-snatcher are still to be found, although much less frequently than in the past.

The forty-day threshold belief;

People in Anatolia call any sickness experienced by the mother or the baby and any failure to regain health within 40 days of giving birth as “the falling forties” or some similar name such as name; “kırk basması”, “kırk düÅ¿mesi”, “kırk karıÅ¿ması”, “loÄ¿usa basması”, and “aydaÅ¿”. It is a common belief that a number of living things and objects will harm mother and newborn baby in the forty-day period after birth. Practices and measures to prevent the ‘falling forties’ are very common.

In order to prevent the ‘falling forties’;

  • Mother and baby are not allowed out for forty days,
  • Care is taken not to bring together women and newborn babies who have not passed through this forty-day period.

The falling forties in a baby used to be related to poor development and weight loss. Various religious and magical practices were considered to be a remedy to prevent the falling forties.’ Nowadays, such practices are almost extinct.

Forty-day precautions;

Washing the mother and child within 40 days of birth to prevent them falling ill within that period is known as “making the forties”. It is commonly referred to as “kırklama”, or “kırk dökme” and “kırk çıkarma”.

The practice is commonly carried out on the 40th day after birth. This period differs according to region, however, and may be carried out on the 7th, 20th, 30th, 37th, 39th or 41st day. Although there may be some differences in procedure in different regions, the aim is the same.

“Making the forties” is still a common practice today as in the past among those customs and practices related to birth.

Source: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

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