Salem readers! Kazakhstan has just celebrated Nauryz, or Nowruz, which signifies “new day” and New Year in Turkic tradition. Nauryz is not only an occasion to celebrate the arrival of spring but also reflect on the renewal of life, rebirth of nature and new beginnings. Nothing embodies new life more than childbirth, one of the most transformative moments of a person’s life. What are the unique birthing traditions and rituals in Kazakhstan? How do Kazakhs celebrate the beautiful experience of giving birth?
Here are the seven most important customs in the Kazakh culture related to childbirth:
- Balaga at beru: This tradition, known as balaga at beruor naming the child, dictates that a newborn child must hear his/her name as often as possible, which is why for three days after the birth, parents pronounce the baby’s name into his/her right ear three times in a row. This custom is based on a belief that the first three days are the most important and formative period in a toddler’s life, and remembering one’s name starts during this time.
- Perishte bergen: Perishtemeans “angel” in Kazakh. According to this tradition, a woman that just gave birth embodies an angel, and eating food served by a new mother is akin to being blessed by an angel. The new mother should eat a celebratory meal first, which is usually Kazakhstan’s national dish made of red meat, beshbarmak. Afterward, she serves the remaining food to the family members and guests, thereby blessing those who share the meal with her.
- Shildekhana toi: On the occasion of the birth of the child, the father arranges a festive celebration, known as shildekhana, or party, and invites relatives and close friends. The tradition has it that the father slaughters a sheep, and the entire family prepares celebratory meals. The important part of this tradition is that the mother of the child eats the neck of the sheep and then shares it with her husband, who should eat it up. Afterward, the parents hang the neck bone in the room of the newborn, which symbolizes the connection of the body and mind.
- Besik toi: According to the besik toi tradition, as soon as the baby’s umbilical cord falls off, the child can already sleep in a crib. Traditionally, the crib is made by someone who is very close to the parents, normally the child’s godmother. This tradition is closely linked to shildekhana toi celebrations.
- Balany khyrkhynan shygharu: The fortieth day since the child’s birth marks a new milestone, according to the Kazakh tradition known as balany khyrkhynan shygharu, or “emergence after forty days.” On this day, the baby is washed with 40 tablespoons of water from a silver spoon. Friends bring gifts, including silver products that are used for child washing.
- Kharyn shash, or a newborn’s hair, is also performed on the fortieth day after childbirth. The child’s parents shave off the baby’s tiny hair, twist it in a ball and keep it in a safe place. After that, they trim the child’s nails and bury them under a large tree. Kazakhs believe that a child will grow strong and resilient if these rituals are performed.
- Tusau kesu: This tradition, translated as cutting the thread, celebrates the most significant moment in a toddler’s life – first steps. When the baby starts walking for the first time, happy parents celebrate this milestone by slaughtering a sheep or a cow, and inviting family and friends for a joyful feast. The tradition has it that parents must cut the thread three times, while pronouncing good wishes, which will help the child walk steadfastly and confidently through life.
As you can see, dear readers, the Kazakhs deeply cherish the beautiful experience of childbirth and attach great importance to the first days of a child’s life. The seven customs are rooted in a belief that parents’ love and a deep-seated respect for traditions will help the child in the future. If you enjoyed this post, please share!