Traditional methods bathe a new Nigerian baby

Recently, while doing my Facebook rounds, I came upon a post by an African American who had posted pictures of her newborn being stretched, hung upside down and so on by a Chiropractor. The more I looked at those pictures, the more familiar the technique appeared to me.

  • Baby held upside down by her ankles.
  • Baby’s head pressed gently in a sort of massaging motion

These were pictures and not a video so I could only glean so much from them but I could tell that the chiropractor’s actions were very similar to the moves that are made on a newborn African child during bath time. Typically, with our babies, we

  • hold them upside down
  • shake them around
  • twist their little hands (gently) behind them
  • bend their knees so that it is touching the baby’s back
  • press stomach down with a warm cloth
  • massage the babies legs and bottom, chest, stomach e.t.c…

If you are Nigerian and born in Nigeria, you definitely know what I am talking about.

While we are not necessarily told why this is done, when one reasons it out, it appears that the goal is to:

  • Strengthen the babies
  • Make them more flexible
  • Ease bowel movement

If there are any other benefits you know about, please leave them in the comment section.

So there you have it, bathing a Newborn Nigerian/African baby goes waaaay beyond administering soap and water.

I was lucky to find an unusual video of a man bathing his baby. Unusual, because typically it is an elderly woman in the baby’s life that performs this role – a grandmother, an aunt, even an elderly neighbour. And then the mother of the newborn if none of these elders are available. So it is really commendable that this man can not only do it, but that he is doing it so well.

Back to the video, if you watch, you will see that he is administering some of the traditional massages and movements on his baby. This plays out at the beginning of the video. He doesn’t hold the baby by the ankles and shake her though.

Want to see another video? Not a lot of moves here but watch between 7:45 and 8:30 as this lovely Grandma bathes her beautiful granddaughter. As a bonus, I found out that some Nigerian clans use palm oil on newborns. According to the grandma in this video, this was so that the baby doesn’t have any unpleasant smells.

You will note that they felt they had to mention that this was to make the baby stronger and that they weren’t bullying her. Let’s talk about that.

Another tradition disappearing or being reclaimed?

A few years ago, someone posted one such video and it was met with such a backlash – “you are hurting the baby!” “Child abuse!” that I think they took it down.

Now, perhaps due to Western influence, I understand that a lot of Nigerian parents no longer practice these bath routines as they are afraid that the baby will be harmed. The very same thing they most likely underwent.

What interests me is that while we get these things for free and take it for granted, the westerners that are interested (and most likely learn it from us for free) go ahead to develop it into a PRODUCT which they sell to people (including ourselves). Not surprising when you look into our history. After all, is Nigeria not the nation that is a world leader in the production of crude oil yet imports crude oil products? We export rubber and import tyres. Export wood and import toothpicks. But thanks to the current recession/economic situation, I think we are beginning to learn.

See this story in the Daily Mail where a woman (Lena Fokina) swings babies around her head in a bid to exercise them. An interesting quote is:

“According to Lena, baby yoga was first practiced by ancient African tribes – but the modern incarnation was developed by fellow Russian Dr Igor Charkovsky”

As an aside, I am pretty certain no Africans called it Baby Yoga. Also, what is a modern incarnation when it is something that is still done to this day? Doesn’t incarnation imply that it died? Just another example of how people claim our traditional practices. Modern incarnation indeed. But, I digress.

I found it interesting that she has been practicing this for 30+ years and even moves around the world to perform this job. That means that she is an expatriate of some sort, practicing a local African art. What I read here is that there exists an opportunity for our grandmas to earn Foreign currency if they properly package their craft? Well worth thinking about.

Here is a video of Dr. Igor Charkovsky and a lady (perhaps Lena?) practicing their craft. I am not certain what is going on at the very beginning. (Is the baby’s umbilical cord still attached to the placenta?) You can skip all that and start watching from the 1:30 mark.

Definitely very different from what the African tradition they “borrowed”

By the way, the chiropractor does this on a newborn to relieve the stress which the birthing process puts on a newborn. This could be another reason why our African ancestors did this.

To end, I think it is very important to look into every single tradition practice carefully before we decide we are going to discard it. It is such a shame to have these same practices pop up as PRODUCTS which we will buy when we could have had it for free. It is fairly easy to learn how to do these moves. I will look into getting it properly documented for those that simply do not have access to this information.

12 Comments

Tomiwq

This is amazing. What you say about our traditions being adopted by foreigners is so true. They take it, repackage it and sell even to us. We need to get over this ‘learned’ shame we have about our cultural and traditional practices. See how palm oil, shea butter and even tradition god worship has been repackaged and funkified for us. I hope we learn to be proud of who we are and were. We have lost our historical and cultural narrative.

Reply
Natural Nigerian

Hi Tomiwa, well said. However, I think we haven’t lost it all yet. There are still a few custodians. We are still in the process of losing it and so there is room for us to retrace our steps and correct this error we are about to make.

Reply
dnddyon

Thanks for sharing.
My favorite video was the second one, the one with 3 generations of women- the big mummy bathing her grand daughter with the help of her daughter (the baby’s mom)- I felt so much bonding going on in one moment between the three females.
Like, I thoroughly enjoyed it- and learnt about the palm oil experience too.
In my place, I think we use the palm (nut) kernel oil instead. They say it prevents the baby from convulsing and having fevers….
Thanks for always deeming it fit to share with us.
Chukwu gozie gi!

Reply
Natural Nigerian

Yes, the palm oil bit was new to me too. Like you, I am aware of the use of palm kernel oil for preventing convulsion and fevers. Thank you for being a constant reader. I appreciate the fact that you deem the posts worthy to spend time reading them.

Reply
Topetito

I know about the palm oil one.Then the baby is scrubbed with the native sponge and warm water is used.Concerning the giveaway I would like the Asato-moisturising lipstick

Reply
Natural Nigerian

Hi Topetito, thanks for contributing. The giveaway you are referring to is organized by Kilienma and is Instagram only. When they decide on a winner, they will contact said winner and ask which lipstick they want to get. Thanks for participating and all the best

Reply
MizB

Interesting piece.
Personally, i am quick to discard old actions but accept it repackaged from the west because i believe the latter have done research and can reasonably prove the effect of such acts. Take for instance, the entire pregnancy/delivery period; In yorubaland, a pregnant woman is told not to eat plantains or banana as it causes ‘oka’ in the baby (pronounced or-ka. I dnt even know what this means because all babies would have patent anterior fontanelles); there is the massage with very hot water which should help return the tummy to it’s original size; mould the baby’s head to give it a fine shape, drink lotsa pap (as opposed to just taking lotsa fluids generally) to aid lactation. Can our grandmas prove these to be true? It is this difference (research), i think, that makes things from the west more acceptable.

Reply
doris

the truth in this….saw a video where chewing stick has been well packaged by the whites….but they call us bush people for using them….so sad. whenever i fall sick, i miss the times i go to old women in Bayelsa for massages, you feel so light and relieved…

Reply

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