Birth related rituals consist of three stages: pre-birth (conception and pregnancy), the birth itself and post-birth rituals. Pre-birth rituals are performed as a way of asking the gods to grant the prospective parents children and in ensuring a healthy pregnancy for the mother. During pregnancy women are subjected to a host of restrictions, both symbolic and dietary. For example, in order to prevent the unborn child from becoming entangled in the umbilical cord, pregnant women are told not to step over a rope. Also, the meat of ‘ugly’ animals such as the rabbit and camel should be excluded from the expectant mother’s diet if she wishes to avoid having an ugly child. To avert an evil or jealous eye, a baby’s clothes should not be bought prior to its birth.

The actual birth of the baby is marked by a series of rituals performed to ensure a successful birth and make the adaptation of the newborn to its new environment easy. The giving of gifts to the midwife is part of the birth ritual. A ritual to ‘introduce the baby to its cradle’ (olgyad orulkh) is also performed at this stage.

Post-birth rituals are performed to denote acceptance of the newborn child into its family and society. The ritual of name-giving (ner oglgn), inviting relatives to the parents' house to view the newborn (gert orulkh), the ritual of ‘making the baby walk’ (tusha taslkh), the ritual of the first haircut (dyakh avkh), and other rituals should be performed soon after the birth of the child or in early childhood. The name-giving ritual includes a celebration called melyalgen during which the newly named baby is given presents by the guests. During the celebration, close relatives traditionally give the baby one of the following animals as a present: a horse, a sheep, a cow or a camel.

Alena Lidzhieva, Rituals Connected with the Birth of a Child

Interviewer (I): What rituals do we perform when a child is born? Do we have such rituals?

Alena (A): Yes, we do.

I: How is a new-born received, how is the umbilical cord cut, how is a new-born bathed?

A: When a woman is about to give birth, a midwife or an elderly woman is invited. After the baby is born, she measures its umbilical cord with her index finger and then cuts it. If it is a boy, it is announced. If it is a girl, her birth is not announced. Then the family visits a Buddhist temple or invites an astrologist to give the baby a name.

I: How is a new-born baby bathed?

A: In Buddhist temples monks give special water to parents to wash their new-born babies. After their umbilical cord falls off, a ritualized bath is performed using milk and incenses.

I: How is the hair cut when a baby reaches a year?

A: When a baby reaches a year, a bundle from their hair is cut off and kept in a secure place. The number of kept hair bundles is the same as the number of children in the family. Hair bundles are wrapped in a white cloth and kept for many years until the child reached 50 or 60 years.

I: (In the past) where in the yurt did people keep their babies?

A: A cradle with a crook was attached to a roof pole of the yurt. Babies were put in there.

I: Did babies feel cold inside the yurt in the winter?

A: I do not remember. Probably they did. I remember how we all sat around the fire to warm up our feet.


Dzhidzha Araeva, About How I Was Born


Larisa Shoglyaeva, Rituals Connected with Children