Friday, February 13, 2009

Life and death on Siberut Island

As we arrive at Aman Lao Lao’s uma in Butui after a 7 hour trek from Atabai over tree trunks, across never-ending mud, and along a beautiful river canyon, the level of excitement in the house is too high to be solely due to our visit.

As a matter of fact, a child is going to be born…

'Assistance' is required, but it seems that a white presence is more a matter of involving us than of asking for help. The only thing we can offer is to boil water and to give clean cloth for the birth and the baby. The mother-to-be, only fifteen, has been in labor pains for nearly two days, and is exhausted from the pushing efforts.

The first ritual performed by Aman Lao Lao and the other sikerei is a dance around the young girl with bells and leaves to ward off the evil spirits, and some concoctions on her body to cool her down (see photo below).

A baby boy is born the next morning. Instead of the boiled water, normal water from the river is used to clean the newborn child. Immunity from the very first breath! The women of the house are very happy, relieved also, birth always being a hazard (see photos below).
A pig is slaughtered right after the birth to celebrate (see photo below).
Aman Lao Lao is reading from the inner organs and predicts that all will go well (see photo below).
The slaughter of the pig (see left bottom of the next photo) is only a four meters away from where the mother has given birth.

Relatives come to the house to share the food. The baby has not been named yet, and it will take five to six days before the naming ceremony starts. A chicken is slaughtered for that occasion; men gather and pick one of the chicken’s feathers. The person with the longest feather is the one naming the child. After this, the 'name giver' has to change his own name. As for the father of the child, he also has to change his name, the new one starting with 'Aman', meaning that the first child is alive. If the child dies, he will take a new name preceded by 'Teo' and will again be able to add Aman when a new child is born.

When somebody dies, an imprint of hands and/or feet is taken on a wall of the house, and painted or carved, as a reminder of his or her presence. Burial in the trees is no longer allowed.

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