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December 29, 2010

Blessing One’s Son

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – The celebration of the birth of my son, a tradition here, got off to a slow start. We were supposed to be there at 10 A.M., according to my wife’s father; but my son Dzul was being uncooperative releasing his bowels several times as we attempted to leave the condo.


We arrived at Suriani’s father’s house where a room full of ladies sat cross-legged while the men milled around the outside. At the back of the room, eight gentlemen from the Mosque, dressed in deep gold shirts, pants and songkok, chanted the doa, prayers recited in Arabic giving thanks to Allah for the birth of my son.


Dressed in white pants and a white shirt topped with a songkok, I joined them, hands folded in a cup to receive Allah’s blessings. The prayers lasted for about 20 minutes while the seated ladies answered “Amin” at the appropriate places.


My wife Suriani and daughter Mary were seated on the floor with the ladies, along with Dzul. Mary had flown in from Montana for the occasion and represented my side of the family as she and her sister Christine had a year ago for my wedding.


Dzul was passed from lady to lady with the help of my daughter and wife. Small pieces of pandan leaf, mixed together with flowers, were sprinkled over his head. This fragrant mixture is used because in the olden days there was no perfume. It signifies future wealth.


Next, yellow rice was tossed over him followed by the painting of the forehead with a white flour mixture. A small snippet of hair was cut and placed in a half coconut filled with coconut milk. His first haircut with over 50 barbers.


The pandan leaves, rice and haircut had been adapted from Hindu visitors who arrived and left Borneo sometime around the beginning of the Christian era.


The family then went into a small room and had a meal while over 200 people were served outside. The menu included beef cooked in coconut milk and spices, a sweet and sour chicken, some kind of veggie, I am not sure what, and a fish dish.


The next ceremony was the burial of the placenta. In a previous column, I described the preparation. My mother-in-law had chosen a place in a line of bushes next to the road. This tradition ensures my son Dzul will not be alone because of many passers-by. Placing the burial location in front of the house means all of his relatives will have to walk past him.


Many of us stood around the “grave.” The placenta was in a plastic box wrapped in a white cloth. Prayers were said. I kissed the top of the box and passed it to my mother- and father-in-law; they did the same and they passed it back to me. I also offered it to those standing around me, many who were Westerners witnessing this ceremony for the first time.


I took the plastic box and placed it into the hole and covered it with dirt. This was my job as it was my son. My father-in-law also helped out.


Spiritually, the placenta is considered the brother of my son Dzul. It had helped him in the womb, providing a bed and a mosquito net. The placenta must, therefore, be treated with respect. He or she will then help Dzul through his life.


All of us know about the startle reflex. Here, it is thought as the spirit of the brother (the placenta) disturbing my son. The reason is always good if, and only if, the placenta has been treated with the utmost respect.


Suriani’s oldest brother said he will not carry on this tradition with his family but his much younger sister informed me she would. I don’t think these are Islamic traditions, but they are ceremonies that bind the family together.


I am not to judge if the kampung rituals are good or bad. They just are. And I am so awed and humbled that I have been accepted into the family and allowed to participate in this amazing culture.


Further, I am drawn to tears in the knowledge that I raised two daughters who accept my new life, respect the traditions and are willing to participate in them. This, above all, makes me realize my life on this planet is worthwhile.


…Life is good!!!


Visit Tom’s website and blog at Tom is also on Facebook at Borneo Tom


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