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Child Birth Traditions of the Tigre Ethnic Group(Part I)

The traditions and cultural practices of a society are representations of their everyday lives, beliefs and aspirations. However, in the present era of globalization and modernization many of the indigenous traditions of different societies are either lost or partially distorted. In some societies, few centuries-old cultural traditions are still practiced, having been preserved throughout the years. The following article will try to view one of such traditions that was practiced 30 years ago among the Tigre ethnic group during child birth.


In addition to the extra care to the mother after childbirth, if the baby born is a boy a bell is hanged either at the entrance of the house or the leg of the bed. This bell is rung four times a day to announce that a baby boy has been born in the house; the bell also rings whenever someone enters the mother’s room. A branch of palm tree is also hanged on the porch of the house. This tradition is called “Rayat” among the Tigre people.  They also put another branch of a palm tree attached to a sharp thing and hang it at the other side of the porch.  The mother touches this branch and makes a sound every time she uses a traditional steam bath know as “Tish”. Until the 12th day the woman taking care of the mother will circle a handful of salt on the heads of the mother and the child three times and seven times consecutively and then throw the salt in fire. This ritual is believed to protect the mother and the child from an evil eye. The men in the family will have a fire in front of the house every evening till the 40th day and  for 40 days both day and night a fire burns in the house symbolizing that there is light and happiness in the house. In the Mensa’e tribe of the Tigre ethnic group the house the mother stays in will be covered by curtains so that no light will reach the mother.

There are several rituals that are practiced by the Tigre ethnic group after childbirth. These rituals are practiced till the 40th or 60th day after the child is born, some of the rituals are “Semyet”, naming of the child, “Geleb”, ceremony after naming the child, and the mother’s crossing a fire-symbolizing her return to regular activities. And the time the rituals are practiced among the different tribes of the Tigre ethnic group differs.  In the Mensa’e tribe three days after a childbirth, a talented woman from the society will make a burn mark at the chest and back of the child. In Maria, ‘Semyet’ takes place on the seventh day while “Geleb”, shaving the child’s hair takes place after the mother returns to her regular actvites in the house.


The naming tradition among the Islamic Tigre people is usually carried out according to the Kuran and as a result the child is named after the special meaning of the day he was born.  A child born on Wednesday is named Abdulqadir, a child born on Friday “Jime’e” and one born on Monday or Thursday is called either Mahmoud or Idris. Often if the father of the child is the youngest in his family, the baby born may get a name of a deceased relative, this happens majority of the time when the deceased have no offspring. Rarely if the family experience a child’s death, the family name their babies after a donkey, dog and other similar names. And this way it is believed that God might be displeased by the name of the child and might not take him or her. This also may be practiced by families who didn’t lose a child. In such occasions the mother will take a tiny piece of flesh from the lower part of the infant’s ear and eat it with butter and yogurt. After this the mother is not allowed to eat the ear of any animal. Among the Christians in Mesa’e tribe, children are named from the bible, but the mother can also give traditional names called “Feshera” in addition to their actual name. The name of the elder son or daughter is also the name of the family. Families are called after their elder son or daughter.

To be continued …..

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