Birth and Christenings
I was lucky to arrive in Carriacou at an important time for births and christenings in the island. A number of colleagues and friends were about to have babies and that, of course, meant celebrating that important rite of passage, the Christening.
Old Traditions and Superstitions about Birth in Carriacou.
Christine David makes some important observations about traditional births and christenings in Carriacou. The following observations are taken from her booklet, ‘Folklore of Carriacou’.
Traditionally, young women had their babies at home. Father’s rarely attended the birth. Prayers were offered for a safe delivery and jack-iron and water were poured at each corner of the house accompanied by requests to deceased relatives for a quick delivery. The umbilical cord was buried under a tree or under the fireplace. The mother remained indoors for eight days and bathed twice a day. The mother received visitors and relatives every day. They brought food and a silver coin for the baby. On leaving the house each visitor had to say to an unbaptised baby, ‘stay with mamie’. This was done, seemingly, to prevent the baby’s spirit from following the visitor.
Special rituals were performed if the baby was born with a caul. A caul is a part of the amniotic membrane which remains on the head. This was removed and hung somewhere to be sun-dried. It would later be given to the baby to suck if the baby was frightened.
In Medieval times in Europe the appearance of a caul on a newborn baby was considered to be a sign of good luck. Parents were presented with the dried caul which was kept as an heirloom. Some early modern European traditions linked caul birth ‘to the ability to defend fertility and the harvest against the forces of evil, particularly witches and sorcerers’, according to Carlo Ginsberg.
In the past in Carriacou soft curly hair on babies was known as ‘dada hair’ of ‘shango hair’. This hair was cut in a special ceremony known as ‘the Shango Hair ceremony’ when the child was two or three years old. This ceremony is described in detail by Christine David in ‘Folklore of Carriacou’.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has first hand observations of the above ceremonies and traditions.
Births and Christenings in Carriacou.
Soon after my arrival on the island Uthan and Grace Noel received a baby boy. Ron Uthan Noel was born on September 17th 1967. Ron was christened on the evening of Friday October 6th in the Anglican rectory in Hillsborough.
‘In the evening Uthan collected me from home and took me to the Anglican rectory for the christening. The service was conducted by Father Smart and the baby was christened, Ron Uthan Noel. I was named as one of the Godfathers and Joycelyn Gay as Godmother. We returned to the family home for a meal of chicken, cake and a few ‘Jack’.
Previous to the christening, just after Ron’s birth, on Friday 22nd Sept. Goot and Marion (Alleyne), George and Cathy (Touchton) and myself took a taxi to Uthan’s house to see the newly born son i.e. Ron. I took my cameras to take some photos of the family. I noted in my diary:
“The photography went smoothly. Outside I heard the sound of a fire crackling and I looked out to see Goot and Marion roasting corn. They made the fire red hot then threw in the corn. Seemingly Baijans (Goot & Marion are from Barbados) take off the leaves first, then throw the corn into the fire to roast. The Carriacouans, on the other hand, throw in the corn, leaves and all. Either way, the result is very tasty, helped down with a small ‘jack’.”
On Monday, November 6th I noted in my diary, ‘Franklin ‘Paddy’ Roberts wife, Gracie, has had a baby boy’. He was eventually named, Sean Telemarcus Augustine Roberts.
On Tuesday, November 7th I noted, ‘Paddy came round to Mr Alleyne’s house and we celebrated the birth until 2.00am’.
Sunday December 3rd 1967
‘Sydney Cudgoe and Franklin Roberts families both had christenings this morning so I took the opportunity to take some photographs at the church. Later we paid Sydney’s home a visit to join in the celebrations. These included a very noisy game of dominoes. Harris Derek, true to form was maintaining an atmosphere of high excitement as the dominoes flew. From Sydney’s we went to Paddy’s to join in their christening celebrations’.
The evening did not end there. It appears, so my diary tells me, that we then ‘walked to ‘Bobbles’ Bullen’s house where we had a meal. Among the guests was Dr Alexis who kept everyone entertained with his lively conversation and sparkling wit’.
Does anyone remember Dr. Alexis?
My final note in my diary for the day reads, ‘By the end of the evening I was quite exhausted and very pleased to roll into bed’.
Christenings were pretty hectic affairs in Carriacou.
On Sunday, January 28th 1968 Roy and Kay Benjamin christened their baby daughter Catherine-Ann. In the afternoon a number of friends, including myself, were invited to the family home for the christening ‘fete’. It was there I took the photos you see below.