When the nans stay and the house is full, they take turns to sleep in my bed. They have their own sleeping style – Hannah lies dead still, she puffs and mutters in her dreams. Jasper flings his arms over me and nuzzles: ‘itching’ his nose in the night when his sinuses give him stick. Riley perambulates around the bed – taking vertical and horizontal ownership of every inch. Annoying the hell out of Jack who believes that is his job.
I never sleep very well when they are next to me – but I don’t mind. Watching them and wondering what is going on in their dream-world fascinates me. I love how their sleeping postures mirror their waking personalities – and how their personal style is reflected in their approach to dreaming. Riley halting demons imperiously, Hannah negotiating in sleeptalk and Jasper quietly mumbling to himself.
I’ve been singing Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child” to myself over the past few days.
I’m accustomed to a smooth ride. Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite.
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more. I don’t expect to sleep through the night.
Some people say a lie’s a lie’s a lie. But I say why
Why deny the obvious child? Why deny the obvious child?
I think songs are my version of Lucid Dreaming. There is usually some meaning behind the obvious. A message from the murk of my subconscious. I just haven’t nailed what that is with this one, yet.
Maybe I was channeling all this when I stumbled on Welcoming Spirit Home. The author, Sobonfu Some is a healer in the Dagara tribe. Who live in Western Central Africa – mainly Burkina Faso and Ghana. They are a spiritual people – believing that each member of a community has a specific role to play. And those roles are allocated according to when the person is born. The date is matched to one of the elements of the natural world: fire (the link between the village and the ancestors), water (peacemaker/conscience), earth (welcomer/nurturer), mineral (the storyteller/wise one) and “natural one” or witch – the keeper of knowledge and guardian of the natural order. Each person is required to fulfill the function designated to them – in order to keep the community together
How their children come into being is also fascinating. The life of a child doesn’t begin the day they are born. Nor just after conception. Rather – a child is ‘born’ the day it first becomes a thought in the mind of the mother. Some says: “Once a woman feels it’s time for her to have a child, she walks off by herself and finds a tree. Under its shade, she sits and waits, until she hears the song of her child.”
The purpose of a hearing ritual is to listen to the incoming baby; to find out who it is; why it’s coming at this time; what it’s purpose is; what it likes or dislikes; and what the living can do to prepare space for this person. The child’s name is based on the information learned during this hearing ritual. “In the Dagara tradition, you own your name up until the age of five. After the age of five, your name owns you. Your name is an energy; your name has a life force. It creates an umbrella under which you live. That is why it is important to hear the child before giving him or her the name, because the name must match the purpose.”
Soon as she’s heard the child, the woman returns to her village and finds the man who will father her child. She teaches him the song. And while they make love they sing their child’s song, inviting it into this world.
And the song continues to be a theme in the life of the child and the village: “After the woman becomes pregnant, the mother teaches her child’s song to all the other women of the village. On the day her child pushes out of her womb, all the women gather together and sing the child’s song, welcoming it into this world. As it grows up, whenever the child gets hurt, any villager can comfort the child by singing their song to them since each member of the tribe knows everyone’s song.”
Later, when the child is older and has done something worthy of praise, the tribe will sing the child’s song to him or her. And when they’re ready to undergo the rites of puberty, the tribe will gather and sing the child’s song. When a child becomes an adult, and they get married, the bride and groom’s songs are sung together as a way of linking their lives.
The Dagara have their own version of law court, too: “If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.” The tribe believes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. “When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.”
And, as the person’s life draws to a close, and they are preparing to die, the tribe gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her, for the last time.
A great pal of mine is thinking of having a baby in the next year. She will be a single mom and the decision has not been lightly taken. I thought of her as the small creatures snored next to me this weekend. Imagining the responsibility – the reality of being solely accountable for a life. With support – sure: but ultimately the buck will stop with her. She has talked often about her decision and it’s implications and the rituals required to make it happen. And we have discussed what her child will be like, will wear, will do one day. The baby even has a nickname. It’s almost as if she is being dreamed into being.
And maybe she is.
(Quotes are excerpted from a talk by Sobunfo Some. See more here. Read more about Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community here. All images in the public domain.)