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Manchu traditions in baby birth

09-26-2010 13:51 BJT

The Manchu, one of China’s 56 ethnic nationalities, refer to the birth of children as “falling on grass.” When a Manchu woman is about to give birth, the mat on the traditional Chinese heatable brick bed will be rolled up and weighted with a big stone, then some dry grass will be spread over the bed. Children are born on the dry grass that can resist moisture and cold, so their birth is called “falling on grass.” This tradition displays the primitive simplicity and plainness of hunting nationalities.

Manchu people

If the baby is a boy, the family will hang beside the door a bow made of baked branches and three arrows wrapped with red cloth. The bow and arrows, commonly known as “Gongzi Jian,” are used to express people’s wish for the baby boy to be a brave warrior who is good at riding horses and shooting arrows when he grows up. If the baby is a girl, the family will hang a piece of red cloth on the right of the door, for the red cloth is a symbol of good luck. As time passed by, red cloths gradually became a sign of the Manchu delivery room. Strangers are not allowed inside the delivery room because it is said that they will take the mother’s breast milk away, which is called “collecting milk.”

The third day after the baby is born, a respected old lady who has at least a son and a daughter will be invited to bathe the baby in a big copper basin filled with warm water. In addition, some branches of pagoda trees, mugwort leaves, and other things will also be put into the water. The old lady will hold the baby with one hand, and bathe it with the other hand, while singing, “Hair washed, you may become a king; waist washed, you will be taller than your father; face washed, you may govern a county; buttocks washed, you may govern a city.” When the song is finished, she will gently hit the baby three times with a green Chinese onion, while saying, “The first hit makes you intelligent, the second hit makes you clever, and the third hit gives you wisdom.” Afterwards, the baby’s father will throw the onion onto the roof of the house, and then the family’s relatives and friends will express their felicitations.

When the baby is one month old, they will tie the “Gongzi Jian” and the red cloth onto the offspring rope and put it in the offspring pocket hanged on the middle and north side of the west wall of the house. There is a portrait of “Mother Fotuo” near the offspring rope. Mother Fotuo is a goddess protecting infants, and the Manchu worship her for blessing every spring and autumn. During the worship, people usually take off the offspring rope from the ancestral tablet and tie it on the willow branches in the yard, and the unmarried boys and girls of the family and the women holding a baby run to the ancestral tablet and kneel down to worship while the others all kneel and bow down their heads. Then a Shaman dips a willow branch into water and sprinkles the baby’s head and puts the baby near the burning incense in order to protect him or her from evil. The Shaman then takes off the five-color string on the offspring rope and ties it around the baby’s neck. Three days later, they take off the five-color string and put it back into the offspring pocket, so the five-color string is also called the “locking string,” and the custom is called “changing lock.”

After the baby is one month old, the baby will sleep in the Youche which is a traditional Manchu method of nursing infants. The Youche is made of thin wooden boards and is about 2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. The two sides of the Youche are round and it looks like a boat. The Youche is hung in the air with ropes on the ceiling beam and is a certain distance above the floor. When the baby cries, the mother will feed it, and when it does not cry, the mother will swing the Youche. It is very convenient and the mother can do housework at the same time. In Manchu families, the Youche for the first born boy in a family is usually a gift given by his grandmother.

To prevent the baby from falling off the Youche and to make sure the baby has straight arms for shooting arrows and has perfect legs for horseback-riding in the future, people usually bind the baby’s elbows, knees and ankles with cloth to make sure he or she lies on its back straight. Therefore, most of the Manchu people have a fit figure and few are humpbacked. In addition, Manchu people regard the flat head as beautiful, so they often fill the pillow with millet and sorghum and put it under the baby’s head, which is called "shuibiantou".

Editor:Shi Taoyang |Source: CNTV.CN

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