One of my closest friends in Shoshong, Zola, recently had a baby. The little one's name is Rethabile. I am not sure about the exact translation, but it means something about happiness. All Setswana names have meanings.
I have visited Zola and Rethabile at home every week since I got back to Shoshong in mid-March. After giving birth, Zola is not allowed to leave the house for at least two months. At the two month mark, her grandmother must bring her out of the house. She cannot leave on her own accord. Although many mothers may choose not to leave the house for a bit in the United States, there is no cultural rule that specifies how long a baby must remain in the home. I wanted to know what other culturally-specific rules there were for conduct post-childbirth. The second time I visited Zola and Retha at home, I asked her more about this tradition.
The general reason the new mother is kept inside the house is because she is viewed as still sick and not ready for the outside world. This has many connotations. The first comes with food preparation. Zola is not allowed to prepare food in any way. Everyone else must cook for her. She has her own dishes and cannot share with others. Because she is actively breastfeeding, the rest of the family doesn't want her milk to somehow get into the food. Zola is not allowed to eat meat, sticking to simpler things like milk, porridge and tea. Zola must always eat laying on her stomach to help her stomach shrink back down to normal size.
Traditionally, the baby cannot leave the bedroom and anyone else who enters the house must stay in the sitting room. Yet, Retha came out with us in the sitting room all the time. So, like all cultural things, some families adhere strictly and others follow some guidelines and not others. Zola is also not supposed to shout or yell for anything. She should only speak with the people sitting closest to her.
Most interestingly I think are the cultural superstitions that follow things like childbirth and death. Most people aren't allowed in the room with the baby for 2-3 months because of the way the baby can be affected. For instance, if a woman who enters the house has had a past abortion or miscarriage, the new baby can get sick or even die. Or the baby may become mentally retarded, Zola said. And she also said that they believe that the baby can sense if its mother or father is having relations with someone else. And it will get sick. If the baby seems to be sick due to one of these things, the mother must put a bit of sand on the baby's tongue and he/she hopefully will be fine.
Oftentimes in Botswana you will see little baby girls with strings of beads around their hips, worn under their clothes. Rethabile is not wearing them yet, so I asked Zola about it. She said that she is waiting to get the beads from Rethabile's father's family. Apparently the girls wear beads in order to develop their hips. If they don't wear the beads, Zola explained, girls will develop into women without real curves.
In Botswana weddings, the man's family must pay the woman's family a bride price called "lobola." Lobola is determined by specific village custom, but can range from 4-18 cows. The groom's family must also buy clothing for the bride and many of her female relatives. Zola informed me that Rethabile's father's family must also give her things in recognition of the birth. If they don't pay in cows, they must pay child support every month in the form of food, money and clothing for the baby. Child support is technically regulated by the government, but every family situation is different, as the majority of women have children before they are married.