AN IGBO TRADITION, The Umbilical cord, and the burial.

Baby oku.The severing of the umbilical cord at birth is a dramatic event. A small native blade, triangular in shape and sharpened at the base (called aguwa or aguba) is used. With this blade in her right hand, the local midwife attending the delivery, pretending to cut very close to the base of the cord, asks: “Do you want me to cut here?” In reply, the group of women present in the delivery place would shout out in a loud chorus answer: “No! No! No!” The midwife continues to ask this question and receives the same answer until she touches the right place, about six to eight inches from the base of the umbilical cord, which she then cuts. The placenta is buried at the site of the birth and the baby is bathed.

In some parts of Igboland, this burial of the placenta is what is recognized and celebrated. In such cases, the placenta is buried at the foot of a young palm tree or any other economic tree which automatically becomes the child’s inalienable natal tree. But the popular ceremony of burying the umbilical cord is different in most part of Igboland. After birth, the mother and her baby are kept in seclusion. While in their seclusion, the child’s umbilical cord is tended with care until it falls off. The fall is usually hastened by the application of an oily matter into which a local spicy herb called uda is added. When it falls off, in about four days, it is buried. In some localities, its burial is delayed until the child is named. The umbilical or naval cord is buried by the side of a newly germinated palm tree, local pear tree (ube, that is da-cryodesedulis), bread fruit tree, local apple (udara) tree or plantain or banana tree.

For its burial, the mother selects the most fruitful oil palm tree out of the many that the husband may indicate. Where he does not, she chooses from any of the economic trees mentioned above, depending on which is available, and buries the child’s cord at its foot. It is believed that this plant, which from then on is regarded as the child’s natal (or naval) plant, will become fruitful in proportion to the fame of the child’s subsequent achievements as an adult.


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