Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Naming Children

Subject:

West African Rituals Regarding Newborn Children

Informant:

Saran Kaba grew up in Gabon. Her family is mostly from Gabon and Guinea, and strongly identify with Mandingo culture which is prevalent throughout the region. Saran immigrated to the United States in 2014, where she now lives and studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“Whenever a child is born, we always wait um seven days to name the child and to… yeah to name the child. And um, we shave, like, the complete hair of the child after seven days. Just because, like, we want to remove any kind of, like, bad energy because like, babies are born with hair, so like it’s kind of impurity for us, it’s… a sign of impurity so like by shaving their hair we just remove like any kind of impurity and yeah to make like the child kind of… pure. Umm, and if the born child is like a female, we sacrifice one sheep, and if the child born is a male, we sacrifice two sheeps. I guess just because guys are… more wealthy than girls I don’t know. So that’s something that, like, my mom taught me.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Saran learned of these rituals from her mom, and also knows that waiting seven days to name the child is based on a Muslim tradition, which she says is prevalent in in her culture. She doesn’t know any more details than that.

Thoughts About the Piece:

This is similar to some European traditions I have heard of, which involve waiting to name a child in case it does not survive early infancy. However, the head shaving is interesting: I know that many mothers I’ve encountered prize their baby’s hair, and I also know that in Jewish tradition, you are not supposed to cut a child’s hair until after their third birthday. Regarding the sacrifices, it seems like the birth of a baby boy is celebrated much more than that of a baby girl, although I don’t know enough about Mandingo culture to say whether that is an artifact of underlying sexism or if there is some other reasoning.

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