Birth celebrations in Morocco: a rich blend of traditional heritage
Morocco, Culture, 5/16/2003
Welcoming a new-born in Morocco is feted with great joy and thankful pride at the divine blessing both for the father and mother who have thus sealed the sacred union of the marriage institution and ensured continuation to the line of descendants.
From the first day in this world, the baby takes the center stage of celebrations that last for seven days, while the parents savor with relish their walk-on part.
As Moroccan regions share several rituals of these rejoicing, each major city draws on its own legacy to lend distinctive features to the celebrations.
In the imperial city of Fez, tradition wants it that rituals marking the birth of the first baby are entirely undertaken by the mother's family.
On the eve of this great ceremony, the recovering mother is visited by a parade of girls clad in exquisitely embroidered kaftans (traditional outfit) bringing her sophisticated sheets, elaborate kaftans, cookies and a sheep...
The whole ceremony takes place on the rhythmic sounds produced by the traditional bands of Gnawas or Dkaykya.
On the 7th day, or Aqiqah, the paternal grand-father washes the newborn before close family members and the mid-wife; generally a wise and seasoned woman, who stays around just in case.
The baby-washing ceremony takes place to the sounds of religious chants, readings of the holy Koran verses and prayers.
Once breakfast is taken, comes the moment of truth that climaxes with the slaughtering of the sheep whereby the newborn's name is officially proclaimed.
At this very moment, child and mother are symbolically covered with a veil to protect them from evil eye.
In the north-western part of the Kingdom (Gharb-Cherarda-Beni-Hssen), "Smia" or naming ceremony starts with the sheep slaughtering "dabiha."
Immediately after that the guests are served one of the region's famed dishes that of "seffa" or semolina mixed with milk.
In the night, all villagers meet at the newborn's house, where birth is celebrated.
Men gather in the guests' room, where verses and prayers are said for the child's well-being, long life and prosperity.
A second dish made of sheep meat is served.
The first person ushered to the feast is either the eldest man in the room or the one with the highest social rank.
The birth offers indeed the opportunity for the family, the village and by extension the whole of the tribe to mark their unswerving commitment to their origins and feted tradition.
In the western Chaouia region, birth celebrations start with the mother bathing and donning her most precious outfit.
The preacher of the douar, village, is solicited to slaughter the sheep, whereby a name is given to the newborn.
In this part of Morocco, tradition has it that the child won't leave his parents house until forty days are completed, which introduces another typical ritual that of haircut.
The mother's father -by default the father's or the village preacher- himself following on his forefathers' footsteps, shaves all of the child's hair except for a small crest on top of the head.
Then, henna is anointed on the head and a khmissa, a hand shaped amulet -or Fatima's hand, after the name of the Prophet Mohammed's daughter- is pinned on the child's hair as a lucky charm against evil eye.
In southern Morocco, the day of birth is feted with what is called here "Takchit," a ceremony in which sheep or camel meat is served to well-wishers.
Like most of the other parts of the Kingdom, the slaughtering ritual is always performed by the mother's father, before receiving family members for the "tarzift" ceremony, in which presents are offered.
Sheep, sugar, or other foodstuff are the usual kinds of gifts.
The choice of the name is mostly the father's preserve, or that of the family's wise man or the mother.
The male new-born is often given the Prophet's name or that of one of His followers.
Sometimes the child would be named after a dear and veneered ancestor.
Some names are inspired from the months of the lunar calendar such as Ramadan, Moloud, Chaabane etc..
It's not unusual that a notable picks up a name for the newborn, in which case he offers the child's parents a camel or jewels.
In northern Morocco, in cities like Tangiers and Tetuan, the birth ceremony reflects a rich blend of rituals reminiscent of the successive cultural and human waves that set foot on this part of the kingdom since days of yore, from the moors who came from Spain to the tribes that settled for centuries now in Tangiers' hinterland.
All have contributed their shares in shaping the rituals that also culminate on the seventh day, on which a name is given to the new-born.
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