© 2017 Tatiana VOLDINA
2017 – № 2 (14)
Key words: Ob Ugrians, Northern Khanty, Northern Mansi, traditional medicine, traditional practice of obstetrics, maternity rituals, taboos for pregnant women, midwives, ritual.
Abstract: Maintenance of a complex of national traditions connected with child-bearing among the Ob-Ugric peoples was preserved until 1930s, some instances – until mid-1950s. Thanks to recorded descriptions of maternity rituals, we can see not only ethnic specifics of obstetrics of the Northern groups of Khanty and Mansi, but also to consider them as components of traditional medicine. Traditionally, child-bearing among Ob-Ugric peoples was performed in the framework of established rituals and the ceremonial system which was based on traditional views about the world, about the man, about the soul and spirits, about the essence of female nature. It represented the indissoluble unity of magical-mystical beliefs and rational knowledge about human nature. The whole system of maternity practices in the North of the territory where Ob-Ugric people lived was associated with the cult of the mother goddess Kaltas’. She was believed to send human souls in the middle world, and give life; there were also common ideas about a spiritual helpmate who assisted at birth, Little Kaltas’ (kaz., middleobsk. hunt), S’an’ (manci); as well as a special protective and cleansing role of the goddess of Fire. Among the East Khanty, functions of all these goddesses are performed by one – Pugos. Carrying out the ceremonies connected with honoring of these goddesses played an important role in creation of a necessary positive background for pregnant women and women in labor, their psychological wellbeing and protection.
Principles of hygiene which women observed during their life course, especially those during menses, pregnancy and childbirth, also were seen in the light of traditional beliefs, first of all, the ideas of the sacred/ profane, as women were considered impure during these periods. By means of constant cleansing procedures on the physical level, and also special sacred smoke they were protected from invisible danger.
A large number of taboos were imposed on women of child-bearing age, especially during pregnancy. As researchers note, the majority of signs and beliefs were created to protect the woman from unnecessary physical activity, undesirable emotions, from various dangers; all these bans have been created for the benefit of the future child. Many groups of Ob Ugric people crafted a special little doll, which was a woman’s talisman during pregnancy and childbirth, and at the same time had a practical purpose in the rites of purification. It was also used for divination if complications and troubles for the mother and child ensued.
Childbirth procedure was traditionally held in a special “little house”, where the woman lived during the times of catamenia. This isolation of women from family was explained as a reaction to taboos, sacred “uncleanness” of women in special periods, but in fact contributed to the preservation of her health, allowed her to avoid excessive physical and psychological stress. In the “little house” there were always hygroscopic materials provided to women. These were soft wood shavings, laid at the bottom of the cradle for the child. When contractions started, the woman got dressed in specially prepared clothes. This was old clothes. At the time of the childbirth, dress was torn into pieces, as the dressing-gown symbolically “opened the way” for a child. At the time of the childbirth a woman among the Sinsky Hunty stood “in the knee-elbow position,” which resembled a swamp frog. Other Northern groups of Ob Ugrians constructed a special device for childbirth in the “little house”, at the basis of its design were two parallel poles with a crossbar. The woman in labour must have kneeled turning her back to a chuval, putting her breast on a cross stick and holding to it with her armpits. It was forbidden for women to shout loudly at the time of the griping pains. The midwife directed childbirth, quite often the mother-in-law acted in this role. She kept fire in the fireplace, brought and boiled water, observed the state of the woman in labor, cut an umbilical cord and performed other necessary actions.
The child was washed with special water with some ashes of a shelf of fungus in it.
The newborn was wrapped in specially prepared soft rags and put in a cradle made of birch bark, where it stayed the first days of life. The cradle contained a blanket made of swan skin or hare skin, a pillow made of soft skin of deer, and talismans (a knife, a stone, matches). The birch dust was laid at the bottom of a cradle for absorption of moisture.
People carried the old clothes of the woman in labour and cradles into the forest. They put the afterbirth and belly-button of the child in a box made of birch bark and hung it on a tree – according to a special ceremony. This custom is related to ancient archetypical ideas about a life tree.
After the lying-in the mother and the child were still very vulnerable and for some time they remained in “the small house”. After a certain period, a cleansing ceremony was performed and the woman with the child returned to family.
As we see, the described traditional practices of obstetrics corresponded in the best possible way to the conditions of living of the Ob-Ugrian people in the past; they have been organically woven into their traditional life and were directed at protecting health of women new-born infants.
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