Cultural Perspectives on Childbirth
Every aspect of who we are from our behaviors to our learning processes is framed by our culture. The whole idea of a “melting pot” in America where many cultures blend to become one culture, is a fallacy. People of like cultural and ethnic background tend to gravitate towards what is similar and familiar. It shapes their identity.
This is particularly true of treaty nations (indigenous peoples) who struggle to keep their own tribal identity. Even in the cities, away from reservations, native people gravitate toward what is familiar and comfortable (besides where else would they get some Indian Tacos?).
Every indigenous group has their own cultural beliefs, rituals and traditions. Even for pregnancy and childbirth. How childbirth took place was shaped by cultural values, ways of knowing, and framed within ritual and belief.
Unfortunately the cultural aspects were not all preserved and kept in all tribal groups, due encroachment from white society. This encroachment has created a rift in fabric of cultural life. “The culture in which people grow up is one of the key influences on the way they see and react to the world and the way they behave (139).”
For many cultures, including the Lakota, pregnancy and childbirth is much more than just a physical act. It is believed that a spiritual force is at work. Concepts, customs, and traditions develop around these spiritual beliefs.
Here are some of the sites I found, for other cultures:
Within each indigenous culture are the ideas and concepts that surround the actions of the pregnant woman, her diet, how others should act when around her. Some ideas and traditions actually carry across into multiple cultures around the world.
One concept has to do with knots and ties. That if these were within view of a pregnant woman, or she stepped across them, it would cause the umbilical cord to be tangled at birth. Another has to do with actions of others. If you fight around a pregnant woman or with one, it causes problems with her pregnancy.
For most indigenous cultures there are concepts taught regarding the spiritual aspects of birth and early childhood. There are beliefs in a female spirit that assists in childbirth, and also assists the soul of the child in “picking” the family in which they will be born. Infants and young children are often considered “sacred beings” and our actions with them must be tempered by this belief.
-More next week, in Part 2.