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Mijikenda: Where newborns are kept indoors for one week before naming fete

By Marion Kithi | Jan 29th 2022 | 2 min read
Dama Ziro, 65, sews a mat at her rural home in Magarini. Dama has preserved the Kifumula Aaache craft and has strived to pass it down to her grandchildren. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

Among the Mijikenda in the Coast region, babies are kept indoors for close to a week after birth before they are brought out and named in a ceremony known locally as kifumula aache.

After birth, boys are kept in the house for five days and girls for four days before the naming ceremony. And as is the case with almost all cultures, this one too discriminates against the girl child as boys are kept indoors for more days to signify they will live longer.

And should the child die before the lapse of the four or five days, they are buried under their parents' bed, according to Tsuma Nzai a director at Magarini Cultural Center in Kilifi County.

Residents believe burying such a baby outside would bring bad luck because the child had initially not been exposed to the outside world. And care is taken to ensure the umbilical cord does not come into contact with the baby's private parts, since they believe this can make the child barren.

Mr Nzai says elders overseeing the ceremony start by pouring traditional alcohol on the ground, chanting incantations, "to alert the ancestors of the arrival of a new member of the community" after which, the child, is given a name. And this only happens at the crack of dawn.

"The baby's mother must be shaved a day before the naming ceremony. The name is normally given by the baby's grandparents, a grandmother for a girl and grandfather for a boy," said Nzai. 

After getting a name, the baby is placed on a mat and shaved by one of the grandparents. Water is then poured on the child's forehead by the grandparent, who later holds the baby’s ears, chanting incantations into them to affirm the child's name. 

"We hold the baby's ear and speak to him or her because we believe they are carefully listening when they are being named," Nzai says. If it is a boy, the grandfather, armed with an arrow and a bow, would take him to the forest "to hunt" signifying that he would be a protector of his community. A girl is presented with firewood as an encouragement for her to become a great homemaker and a caregiver.

Local elders are also blaming the introduction of religion, including Christianity and Islam, for the fading of their culture.  

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